Best Of The Web
“For a few days this summer, Alexa, the voice assistant who speaks to me through my Amazon Echo Dot, took to ending our interactions with a whisper: Sweet dreams. Every time it happened, I was startled, although I thought I understood why she was doing it, insofar as I understand anything that goes on inside that squat slice of black tube. I had gone onto Amazon.com and activated a third-party “skill”—an applike program that enables Alexa to perform a service or do a trick—called “Baby Lullaby.” It plays an instrumental version of a nursery song (yes, I still listen to lullabies to get to sleep), then signs off softly with the nighttime benediction. My conjecture is that the last string of code somehow went astray and attached itself to other “skills.” But even though my adult self knew perfectly well that Sweet dreams was a glitch, a part of me wanted to believe that Alexa meant it. Who doesn’t crave a motherly goodnight, even in mid-afternoon? Proust would have understood.
We’re all falling for Alexa, unless we’re falling for Google Assistant, or Siri, or some other genie in a smart speaker. When I say “smart,” I mean the speakers possess artificial intelligence, can conduct basic conversations, and are hooked up to the internet, which allows them to look stuff up and do things for you. And when I say “all,” I know some readers will think, Speak for yourself! Friends my age—we’re the last of the Baby Boomers—tell me they have no desire to talk to a computer or have a computer talk to them. Cynics of every age suspect their virtual assistants of eavesdropping, and not without reason. Smart speakers are yet another way for companies to keep tabs on our searches and purchases. Their microphones listen even when you’re not interacting with them, because they have to be able to hear their “wake word,” the command that snaps them to attention and puts them at your service.”
JJ Best Of The Web
"Like many Western analyses of the Middle East, they reduce Iraq’s complex internal conflicts to catchall explainers of ‘sectarianism’ and ‘tribalism’ – presuming that some groups of people are intrinsically primed for antagonism."
" he's a loser in the precise sense that his singular accomplishment in American public life has been to lose a Senate race to the stupendously unpopular Republican Ted Cruz."
"While applauding the social impetus, Israelis are divided in opinions on an American-based initiative and question its grammatical integrity."
A look at the networks that churn out nonstop, formulaic Christmas movies; the actors who star in all of them; and the fans who can't stop watching.
"The Department of Homeland Security wants to use credit scores to determine immigration cases. That sets a dangerous precedent."
"Traffic. Congestion. Pollution. Hours-long commutes. What if you could leave it all behind and trade it in for an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient personal copter—all without a pilot’s license?"
"“But Qutb saw something else. The dancers in front of him were tragic lost souls. They believed they were free, but in reality they were trapped by their own selfish and greedy desires.”"
Cliches can be used as a political tool. "Prefabricated language helps everybody from prime ministers to CEOs disguise what they really want to say."
"Santa is nothing but stress for families who don’t believe in him. Trying to keep other kids from finding out the truth can cause a holiday-season-long headache."
"Umami is hard to describe in words. In the New Yorker, Hannah Goldfield defines it as “that deep, dark, meaty intensity that distinguishes seared beef, soy sauce, ripe tomato, Parmesan cheese, anchovies, and mushrooms..."
"The designer babies have thus been called the “future-we-should-not-want” for each new reproductive technology or intervention. But the babies never came and are nowhere close. I am not surprised."
"Thousands of secular Israelis became newly observant and joined Haredi communities in the 1970s and ’80s. Now, their children and grandchildren are searching for a place of their own."