Everyday UX — Fight Over Voice Recognition with Alexa (Amazon Echo)


My experience with the Amazon Echo. a.k.a. “Alexa” is mostly enjoyable, but there are times that we fight over voice recognition.

I have accent when I speak English. I’m aware that some of my words are not as accurate as how the Americans say them. However, I’m very confident about the way I say numbers.

Alexa drove me nuts when it recognized my word “fifty” as “fifteen”. Once I threw some sweet potatoes into the oven and wanted a fifty-minute timer using Alexa. It told me it set a fifteen-minute timer. I canceled the timer and asked it to set again. It gave me a fifteen-minute timer yet again. We kept going back and forth, cancelling and setting timers and none of them were right.

I don’t know about others, but when I was deep in this “Alexa you’re wrong, give me my fifty-minute timer” mode, I was drilling into a rabbit hole: I wanted to teach it a “lesson”, but hey, apparently it’s no use for a robot. More than five minutes passed, I was still trying to set a timer of fifty minutes and it still recognized it as fifteen. Ugh!

At the end, I said, “Alexa, set a timer for 41 minutes.” Of course it got it immediately just like that! Now, the “fifty-minute timer” has become my pet peeves with Alexa. Till this day, it may have got it right no more than two times.

(My friend from the UK gave me a trick: tell Alexa to set a timer for “fifty minutes” while pinch my nose. You know what, it actually has a much higher success rate!)

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