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It started with Alexa. Then the microwave got “smart.” Now, it’s the air fryer. Where will it end? And why can’t I simply say, “Alexa, make me a sandwich”?
In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist.
I have a lot of Alexas. Oh, it’s not just because I’m a reviewer, and Amazon keeps sending me devices to review. It’s because I purposely bought an Alexa device for every room of the house. And yes, in there too.
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Some of you will comment about the Big Brother aspects of allowing a global artificial intelligence to listen to everything I say. I counter by telling you I don’t ever say much that’s of particular interest to a global artificial intelligence.
And it’s not like Amazon is going to pick up on my secret shopping preferences. I already buy most of my stuff through Prime anyway, so my need for new socks and my monthly order of coffee has long been stored deep in some AWS database.
We find Alexa necessary in every room because we use it to set timers, set reminders, operate all our lights and thermostats, and intercom across the house. Plus, you never know when a math problem needs to be solved. And yes, even in there.
Also: Best Amazon Echo 2022: Which Alexa device is right for you?
Alexa has long had a spot in our kitchen, on top of the microwave. She started inside an Echo Dot and remained there for many years. We use Alexa a lot in the kitchen, especially setting timers and adding items to the grocery list.
Statements like, “Alexa, add blue cheese to grocery,” work with our AnyList app to always make sure things are added to the list just as we use them up, even if our hands are full.
Alexa’s use went up considerably once we were able to set multiple named timers. “Alexa set carrot timer for seven minutes. Alexa set a chicken timer for 12 minutes. Alexa, set garbage night reminder for 11pm.”
A few years ago, we upgraded Alexa’s Dot to an Echo Show . This was entirely unnecessary. But what about Alexa is truly necessary? It’s all about convenience. We found the Show to be quite comforting to be able to see timers as they counted down, to be able to see that items were properly added to the grocery list, to play completely irrelevant news videos, and to ask her to tell bad Dad jokes.
Did you hear about the new pirate movie?
It’s rated arrr.
What kind of salad wears a diaper?
Also: We bought an Alexa-enabled microwave. Here’s what happened
Back in November, we bought an Alexa-aware microwave . It seemed silly, but we needed a new microwave, and this one responds to verbal commands.
I’ll admit, it’s kind of dumb. It knows “cook” and “microwave” as commands, but not “nuke” or “zap”. It can “reheat” foods, but they seem to be just as cooked as when we ask it to cook food. It knows of a few recipes and instructions, but they’re few enough that we’d have to remember what they are, so we rarely do. It does understand how to cook popcorn, so there’s a win.
To be fair, there’s no good reason for an Alexa-enabled microwave. That said, I haven’t pushed a button on the microwave since the day we installed it. I’m not a caveman. I don’t need to press buttons on a touchpad. Instead, every morning I ask, “Alexa, cook for 90 seconds,” and she heats up my bowl of oatmeal.
Our latest addition to the pantheon of robotic cooking devices is an air fryer. I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of an air fryer, but my wife wanted to try one. Let me tell you; air fried chicken thighs are incredibly delicious and easy to make.
The air fryer that Alexa assimilated is the Proscenic T21 , sent to me by Proscenic for review. The air fryer itself doesn’t have speakers or microphones as with the microwave. Instead, the kitchen Alexa listens to requests and passes on instructions, kind of like a digital Mrs. Patmore.
Instructing the T21 isn’t quite as smooth as the microwave. That’s probably because “Alexa, cook for 60 seconds” goes to the microwave, and Alexa wouldn’t know to send it to the air fryer. Instead, the invocation sequence is “Alexa, ask Proscenic air fryer to…”
Also: The one Alexa feature that makes it worth letting her spy on us all she wants (according to my wife)
There are actually quite a few options, and many are quite helpful while cooking. Our favorite air fryer meal is chicken thighs. Handling raw chicken is messy and requires care, so not having to touch the air fryer can be a win. For example, “Alexa, ask proscenic air fryer to power on” and “Alexa, ask proscenic air fryer to preheat” can both be issued while both hands are full of salmonella.
There are a variety of pre-built cook times in the device for chips/fries, shrimp/prawns, pizza, drumstick, fish, beefsteak, cake, and bacon. Unfortunately, while there’s documentation on how to connect the Alexa skill through the associated app, there’s almost nothing listed about the various Alexa commands the device listens for. So, for example, while the Skill Library reference says you can tell the air fryer to cook a cake, what does that mean? There are no details provided in the manual.
As with the microwave, I initially thought the Alexa integration was a joke feature. But I use Alexa commands almost exclusively with the microwave, and we find the ability to initiate the air fryer functions while prepping chicken quite helpful.
That said, the documentation is written as if the device wasn’t ever Alexa enabled. There are nods to smart functioning, but it’s clear that the same tech writers who’ve been writing appliance documentation since the 1990s wrote the docs for this device as well.
Unfortunately, our kitchen isn’t smart enough to make actual food. It can’t open the refrigerator and remove ingredients. It can’t clean up after itself (arguably something I’ve never really learned, either).
That said, if you’ve embraced having Big Brother Bezos listening to you at all times, then the Alexa-enabled microwave and air fryer (and who knows what’s next) do make doing kitchen chores just a little bit easier.
What about you? Do you have Alexa in your kitchen? Have you added any smart appliances? I’m still waiting for the time I can say, “Alexa, bring me a coffee”, and it happens. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.
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