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Yelling at Amazon's Alexa

The New Yorker

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.


This Week in Fiction: Lara Vapnyar on Living According to Leonard Cohen Lyrics

The New Yorker

Your piece in this week's issue, "Waiting for the Miracle," tells the story of a young Russian man who arrives in the U.S. for the first time and spends a night looking for the miracle of a true New York City adventure. His expectations are actually met. Do you think that's a common experience for a Russian émigré in New York? But only to those Russian émigrés who live according to Leonard Cohen's lyrics as if they were the Bible. Leonard Cohen songs form a kind of soundtrack to the piece (and give it its title).