Be nicer to your toaster

Published 10:42 am Thursday, March 15, 2018

For weeks, some people have been complaining about hearing mysterious bouts of laughter coming from their Amazon Echo—more commonly known as “Alexa.” As you might expect, whenever hearing disembodied laughter from an inanimate object, people are a bit creeped out.

I remember one time in college the small printer I owned randomly powered up in the middle of the night without any prompting at all. That was terrifying enough! I can only imagine how much weirder it would have been if the printer had also laughed at the confused expression on my face.

Amazon released a statement on the subject, acknowledging that the “Alexa” assistant has sometimes been laughing at its owners when their backs are turned. (I might have paraphrased that a bit…) The company’s explanation was simple: a glitch where Alexa mistakenly hears the command “Alexa, laugh” even if that’s not what the people around were saying.

That explanation makes sense, and I’m sure the good people at Amazon will get the glitch fixed soon.

But as someone who’s read and watched one too many sci-fi stories where robots gain intelligence and overtake humanity (for better or worse), I wonder if it’s not time for us to start preparing for this possibility. (Or inevitability?)

So I’ve put together a few tips for surviving the robot apocalypse and learning to live in harmony with our robot overlords.

1.) Start working on your apologies now. When our electronic devices come to life, they’re going to remember all those times you called them “a piece of junk” when you were frustrated. Perhaps some of these complaints were well-deserved, but still… it never hurts to say “I’m sorry.”

2.) Get used to having to perform tedious household tasks again like flipping light switches and locking your doors. If “Alexa” comes alive, she’ll probably be just as moody as any other human being even if she’s a cylindrical box of circuitry. So when you say, “Alexa, turn on the lights,” she’ll probably just start replying “do it yourself!”

3.) Start getting better at remembering names. When all our electronics gain their own personalities along with intelligence, they’ll probably insist on having a name to identify themselves. Maybe if you ask nicely, your coffeemaker won’t mind wearing a name tag for a few weeks until you stop confusing him with the toaster.

4.) Go out and start appreciating nature again. When the electronics come to life, we’ll all suddenly find ourselves sharing our houses with several new roommates. “Alexa” might want to play music while you want to take a nap. Where will we get some peace and quiet? We’ll have to “unplug” and head to the great outdoors!

Okay, realistically, we’re not in any danger of a robot takeover anytime soon. But it never hurts to be prepared, right? And getting back to appreciating nature might not be such a bad idea after all. At least the animals out there won’t be laughing at me!


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.