Talking about Alexa is like trying not to mention Lord Voldemort

Talking about Alexa is like trying not to mention Lord Voldemort

The assistant who can't be named

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I use Google Home and Amazon Alexa smart speakers on a daily basis - partly for my job, and partly because I like using their voice assistants to adjust the lights and play music or the radio.

At first, I strongly believed that Amazon's strategy to give Alexa a name, like a human, made more sense than Google's approach of asking us all to say 'Hey Google' or 'Okay Google' to get the attention of the clunkily-named Google Assistant.

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I still believe Google Assistant is a clunky name, especially when written down, but now I understand why the 'okay' or 'hey' is part of its wake word - the sound which prompts it to sit up and pay attention. And, weirdly, it reminds me of Harry Potter.

Through the first six books, uttering the name of Lord Voldemort was a Hogwarts taboo, with 'you-know-who' or 'he-who-must-not-be-named' used as a substitute. Although never fully explained, it is believed that, if someone says 'Voldemort', all protective spells cast upon them are broken, and Death Eaters would be able to find them.

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Although I don't fear of Amazon Death Eaters descending on my home and attacking me, like an army of possessed Prime delivery drivers, I've found myself actively trying to avoid saying Alexa out-loud.

Even now, as I write this, I'm conscious of not mumbling the assistant's name to myself as a proof-read, knowing the Echo Dot on my desk will surely hear me and burst into life.

Amazon echo alexaTalking about Alexa in the company of an Echo can be trickyAmazon

This makes for tricky conversations with anyone in my lounge, where the Echo is located. Friends may ask about my work, or specifically about a new smart home device I'm trying out; they want to know how it works with Alexa, or they're asking for my advice on buying an Echo or a Google Home.

Talking about the Google Assistant is easy, as there's no need to ever say 'hey/okay Google', unless actually demonstrating how it works. Instead you can just say 'the Google Assistant' or 'Google', and the context is understood.

But everyone refers to Amazon Echo smart speakers as 'Alexa devices' or even just 'an Alexa' - both of which cause the assistant to fire into life, listen, upload what's said to Amazon's server, then respond.

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This always ends in Alexa saying something like "Sorry, I didn't catch that", and everyone being briefly confused about why the assistant spoke up in the first place.

I also have to make sure the Echo Dot's microphone is muted before my weekly Skype chat with the editor of GearBrain, as we'll no doubt mention you-know-who. There are no such issues when talking about the Google Assistant, and even if you want to state something you'd say to it, you can simply omit the 'hey' or the 'okay' and continue the utterance.

I end up referring to Alexa as 'the Amazon assistant', but a friend will invariably replay with the A-word, undoing my admittedly amateurish linguistic avoidance techniques.

Of course, Alexa's wake word can be changed to Amazon, Echo, or Computer. But I fear that these are far more likely to be brought up in everyday conversation. So, while Alexa can once again be mentioned without fear of Death Eaters or the accidental ordering of toilet roll, the assistant is surely going to respond by accident far more often.

I therefore propose that, from this day forward, Echo smart speakers owners - or anyone who uses Alexa, for that matter - should adopt The Voldemort Technique and refer to Alexa as you-know-who, or the-assistant-who-cannot-be-named.

Alternatively, we could all heed Dumbledore's advice to Harry Potter, edited slightly for 2019: "Call it Alexa, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself."

Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Amazon Alexa enabled devices.

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