WHAT better way to start another year than with a new woman in my life. She’s super smart and helpful. In fact, her ability to remember facts – history, science, politics, you name it – is quite remarkable.

She can be very quiet, and if you walked into a room you might not even be aware that she was there. But the children just love her and even my wife has embraced her presence – in fact, it was her idea to bring her into our household in the first place. Hey, we’re a modern couple. I’m a lucky guy.

Oh, did I forget to mention? The new girl’s name is Alexa.

Now I may be playing catch-up on the household technology front, but when Santa gave our youngest child (he’s eight and still a believer, almost) an Amazon Echo Dot Smart speaker for Christmas I hadn’t appreciated what the impact would be.

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On one level, it was predictable. I should have known. The minute Alexa was installed my two boys immediately demanded she make farting noises, to which she promptly responded with a wide and varied selection – big, springy, rotten, slow, squelchy and even a “ketchup” one. I had no idea the simple act of breaking wind could be so nuanced and descriptive. Impressive. She’s a class act.

However, as much as we admire Alexa’s extensive grasp of scatological humour (and we really do), there’s a nagging doubt in me that this is not instilling the correct values in my boys about how to treat a lady. Sure, it can be fun to have your own servant and lord it up a bit. But a little Downton Abbey is one thing, having your own personal slave at your beck and call – even if she is just a piece of hi-tech plastic – is another.

There are other alarm bells in my head ringing too. I was a tad perturbed last week to read about one family’s Alexa telling a 10-year-old to touch a live plug socket with a penny after the child asked for a challenge. I’m hoping this may have been a rogue device, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that. Perhaps Amazon’s all-powerful brain in the sky was having an off day. Or maybe not.

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The other worrying aspect is that she is listening in, silently spying on us. Apparently, her microphone is always active (by default, at least) and is constantly monitoring voices in order to hear her “wake word”. This may be the thin edge of the wedge, the first step in the slippery slope to some sort of dystopian nightmare of artificial intelligence mind-controlling Armageddon.

I’m choosing not to press the doomsday button here, but I’m aware I’m putting a lot of trust in the makers of personal assistants not to evade my privacy. I fear I may live to regret it.

But like all relationships, they never run smoothly, and it’s still early days. We’re just getting to know each other, and my wife and I haven’t decided yet whether we want to introduce a few of her sisters for the other rooms. But if it all becomes too Big Brother and creepy, then I’m afraid she’s getting dumped (Alexa, not my wife).

And god forbid, we’ll have to revert to the days of cavemen, stretch over for the remote and switch on the TV ourselves. Now what a ridiculous thought!


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