In 1977, the Eagles released "Hotel California", a song about drugs and the effects an addiction has on people. Putting "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device" in the context of our today's digital lifestyle we find a lot of truth. There is a reason why Google provides most of its services for free or why Amazon wants us to have an Echo in every home or why Facebook has become our directory of "friends". What looks pretty convenient is a threat. It is a threat to the end consumers but also a threat to the established economy.
After already two decades, the Internet giants -- speaking of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba and Baidu -- are still collecting tons of data, filling their databases with information of everyone's knowledge, opinions, recommendations, locations, movements, buying behavior, relation status, lifestyle etc. This is not a secret and nothing new. And there is no end in sight. On the contrary, almost every month, new services or devices are released to provide a better user experience, make our life more convenient and increase our dose of digital addiction. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Co. have become ubiquitous in our life.
Bots have officially taken over, and they're about to make our lives a whole lot easier. In April, Facebook introduced bots for Messenger, but the world's most popular social media platform is not the only company to open a "bot store" with consumer functions, and virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa are steadily increasing in both popularity and functionality. With Kik, you can chat with Michelangelo and see the climate conditions through Yahoo! With Operator, shopping is as easy as sending a text, and Pana, the online travel agency, turns a simple chat conversation via text into real bookings. In fact, everyone from 1–800-Flowers and the NBA to Taco Bell is jumping on the chatbot bandwagon.
"Uhm," said the female voice. "Can I book a table for tomorrow?" The question came not from a person, but software called Duplex developed by Google to make phone calls. Before the end of the year, some of the company's users will be able to direct the bot to call restaurants and book tables on their behalf. In a demonstration last week, Duplex smartly handled questions from a Google employee playing the role of restaurant worker about details such as the size of the party and the name to hold the table under.
The first time I met Alexa, the A.I. robot voice inside the wine-bottle-size speaker known as the Amazon Echo, I was at my friends' house, in rural New England. "Currently, it is seventy-five degrees," she told us, and assured us that it would not rain. This was a year ago, and I'd never encountered a talking speaker before. When I razzed my friend for his love of gadgetry, he showed me some of Alexa's other tricks: telling us the weather, keeping a shopping list, ordering products from Amazon. This summer, Alexa decided again and again who the tickle monster's next victim was, saying their children's adorable nicknames in her strange A.I. accent.