Say what you like about Amazon, it has never been cool.
So it was only a matter of time before it managed to take the one cool thing it has done – the voice-activated Amazon Echo digital assistant Alexa – and make it embarrassing.
Well, that time has arrived with the introduction of the Speech Synthesis Markup Language, or SSML, added to the Alexa developer kit, which will let its computerized voice pronounce words and phrases in a more sophisticated, expressive way.
On the surface this sounds like a terrific idea: the more Alexa sounds like a real human talking back to you, the more comforting and the less jarring it might be.
Although the Echo's voice is impressive compared to the technology of the recent past, it is still a bit of a monotone: like being sat next to the middle-aged woman who gave up chasing her dreams a really long time ago. Instead, your digital assistant could become your favorite teacher, full of wonder and passion and promise.
Unfortunately, however, the reality is less inspiration and more desperation. Alexa is going to become your most annoying, painfully "cool" aunt or uncle.
You know, the one who went to France 20 years ago and uses the odd 'voila!' to indicate their cosmopolitan nature. Whose cultural depth – and references – stem from bad 1980s sitcoms and movies. Who once caught an episode of the Sopranos and now talks in a terrible Jersey accent whenever there's spaghetti for dinner. Yep, they're now in your house, all the time.
Don't believe us?
The maniac who announced this change to the world – Amazon's Alexa "chief evangelist" David Isbitski – gives as the best example of this new technology the word "bazinga." That's "bazinga."
OK, so the word "bazinga" has recently grown popular thanks to its use by Sheldon in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. But, the very reason it is used, and is funny, is precisely because it is so lame and uncool. Sheldon is a nerd.
Looking at the full list of "speechcons," it seems as though Amazon's deeply uncool Alexa team wrote down all of the words they imagined a "cool" person would utter and then forgot to run them past anyone who has ever gotten laid.
- bada bing (The Godfather, The Sopranos)
- beep beep (Roadrunner)
- cowabunga (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
- great Scott! (Back to the Future)
- nanu nanu (Mork and Mindy)
- and many more...
Not content with these, there is also just about every annoying expression repeated ad nauseam in lazy TV shows:
- just kidding
- oh snap
- ruh roh
- spoiler alert
- and many, many more...
And then there's the cliched linguist:
- au revoir
- bon appétit
- bon voyage
- en gard
- mazel tov
- and many, many more...
In short, Amazon has gone to some trouble to actively make it possible to start hating your Alexa. Bravo Alexa! (And, yes, "bravo" is there too.) ®