You’d think it would be great PR to get your product featured heavily on one of the most successful television shows of this decade. You’d be wrong, however.
Amazon’s Echo, the Alexa version, features in several episodes of Mr Robot season 2, but nowhere does it feature more prominently than in the penultimate episode of said season. Before I critique its use in the show, for those of you that haven’t seen Mr Robot, or heard of Amazon’s new Echo product, I shall elaborate on the two.
Mr Robot is an American drama-thriller centred on a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who suffers from social anxiety disorder and clinical depression. This hacker, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known as “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater) to join a group of hacktivists. The group aims to erase all financial debts by attacking the world’s largest banking corporation, E Corp.
By the end of the first season they have succeeded in their task. However, the world wasn’t just going to sit back and let this happen. The FBI is hot on the tale of the computer wizards and this is visualised through FBI field agent, Dominque “Dom” DiPerro (Grace Grummer) who leads the FBI to the vast majority of their leads.
Dom is portrayed as a cripplingly lonely individual who struggles to sleep at night due to her lack of friendly social interaction and any sort of love life. Although talking to colleagues and suspected criminals on a daily basis, outside of work she is entirely alone. This is perhaps why she continues to push herself, and dedicate all her spare time to the FBI, even when it threatens her wellbeing.
In her house Dom has Amazon’s Alexa and it is through the field agent that the product is able to show off its myriad of features including hands free audio control, musical output, weather reports, and the control of light switches.
You can also ask Alexa, which costs £149.99, a wide array of questions, and this is the only person (if you can indeed call it that), that Dom is able to ask her deepest and most personal questions.
In the episode “k3rnel_pan1c.ksd,” a depressed Dom asks: “When will the world end?”
To which Alexa responds: “Unless a future technology goes very wrong indeed, Earth is most likely to be destroyed in several billion years’ time.”
The lonely FBI agent later asks, in “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”: “Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?”
The robot answers: “I’m not the dating kind.”
The FBI agent then asks “Alexa, are you happy?” to which it replies “I’m happy when I’m helping you.”
The entranced FBI agent then asks Alexa the ultimate question: “Do you love me?” to which the robot responds “That’s not the kind of thing I am capable of.”
It is through this conversation that any hope Amazon might have had of showing off how great a product its new echo is crumbles into a strong criticism of our reliance on technology as an alternative to human contact.
I cannot say for sure what show creator and writer Sam Esmail hoped to achieve but my viewing of this upsetting and uncomfortable scene showed me a strong depiction of how many in our society have become so attached to a technology that cannot give us what we need as social beings namely, love, care, and friendship.
Dom strives for these things and so turns to her technological companion, but Alexa cannot give her these things, all it can do is tell her what the weather is like, play her favourite Spotify playlist, and order her takeaway. All the Echo does is provide superficial satisfaction, endorsing our own robotic takeover as we sit back and let machines do all the menial tasks for us.
What these machines cannot do, however, is provide us with some of life’s most rewarding endeavours. The cultivation of a friendship. The nurturing of a loving relationship. And the satisfaction that comes from creating a network of caring individuals whom you can rely on.
Alexa is portrayed in such a negative fashion in the show that I cannot understand why the Amazing bigwigs decided to give it the go ahead. If you were given the option to promote your product’s features, but only through it being used as a medium by which to highlight how crippling loneliness cannot be cured by talking to a machine, I don’t see why you would say yes.
If I asked an ice cream manufacturer to show off their new product in a show centred on an obese person slowly eating themselves to an early grave, I’m not sure they would give it the go ahead.
So too with technology. It cannot give us all that is needed in life and Amazon trying to show off the robot’s features in an episode highlighting loneliness and how technology cannot provide an alternative to this, and indeed can aggravate the problem, seems like a big mistake to me.