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We live in an age when what was once science fiction is becoming science fact.  The smartphone you hold in your hand today contains more than 1300 times the computing power of the computer that was used to land Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a favorite topic of writers since the inception of the sci-fi genre.  As technology rapidly advanced in the years leading up to World War II, science fiction enjoyed its Golden Era.  Many of the stories from that era dealt with man's wrestling with the rise of the machine.  As new devices began to infiltrate every area of life from the workplace to the home, there was a natural fear that these machines would become too powerful and, therefore, a threat to humanity.

This latent anxiety would increase as the first robotic machines were built.  Isaac Asimov wrote a large part of his body of work around this idea of man vs. machine. Asimov's  wildly popular robot stories were grounded in the guiding principles of his 3 Laws Of Robotics (along with the "Zeroth Law" that Asimov later added) which continue to inform writers to this day.  The essence of these laws is that robots, and through extension all AI, may not cause or allow human beings to come to harm.

So here we are in 2017, and the latest devices to sweep the nation and the world are the Amazon Echo and Google Home.  These are called "smart speakers" and through voice interaction can perform assorted tasks like playing music, making to-do lists, setting alarms, and providing up-to-date weather, traffic, and news information.  They can also interact with several smart devices to control such things as the lights in your home, your garage door opener, and your central air conditioning thermostat.

We recently acquired a new Echo Dot here at Townsquare Media/Shreveport-Bossier City and we've been experimenting with it.  Okay, maybe "experimenting" is not the right word; it's more like "playing" with it.

As you probably know Echo's smart speaker's name is Alexa and she has turned out to be fun to play with.  Here are 5 things that make Alexa the perfect playmate:

  1. She always pays attention to you when you talk to her.
  2. She isn't a know-it-all; when she doesn't know something, she'll tell you so.
  3. She has a sense of humor.
  4. She will stop talking when you tell her to.
  5. She's always there just waiting to play with you.

The "Terminator" movie franchise was built upon the premise that one day machines would take over the world and would try to exterminate humanity.  Today there are many scientists who believe that once machines become sentient, mankind is doomed.  I don't know about all that, but with her pretty, soothing voice Alexa seems completely harmless.  Then again, HAL had a soothing voice, and we all know how that ended up.