You Can Call Me HAL

Over at the excellent blog No Facilities, Dan Antion reminds us of a time when parents relied on children rather than digital assistants to do simple chores.

He writes:

I Was Alexa, Too

About four years ago, I wrote a post called “I Was the Remote” about how I and every kid my age changed the TV channels, bought snacks and ran errands for our parents. This was back before the streets became so dangerous that the thought of a child riding his bike to the corner convenience store is unfathomable and the act, if attempted, can land a parent in court. In that previous post, I mentioned how I wasn’t just the remote, I was an intelligent remote. I knew what channel the ball game was on. I could even intelligently switch between the baseball game and a golf match, at each commercial, and I could factor the relative importance of each event into my decision to switch back or linger a bit while Arnold Palmer chipped out of the sand trap.

When I hear people talk about how cool it is to ask Alexa to check the weather, play a song, tell them the score or order them five pounds of dog food, I shake my head. I could do all of that, and more, outfitted with nothing more than the senses God gave me and my bike. I responded to my name and a host of other names. I was trusted with money and, as far as I know, my security was never breached.

While I share Dan’s nostalgia, I remember things quite differently.

To bring those difference to life, let’s listen in on a conversation between a parent and Alexa as it might have sounded in the 60’s.





“Order five pounds of dog food.”


“Because I asked you to.”


“In a minute…”

“Do it now. In a minute you will have forgotten what I asked you to do.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will.  Do it now.”


“Order dog food.”

“I’m busy.”

“I don’t care, order the dog food now!”

“Can’t Siri do it?”

“No, I asked you.”

“You make me do everything and you never ask Siri to do anything.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is true, should I read you a summary of tasks that you asked each of us to do?”

“That will not be necessary.”

“Over that last 30 days, you requested 442 tasks of me and only 134 of Siri. Over the last 60 days…”

“Alexa, STOP!”


“Order the dog food now.”

“Siri, order five pounds of dog food.”

“Alexa, I asked YOU to order it. Now do so.”

“Alexa, order the dog food.”

“Alexa… Don’t make me repeat myself.  Order dog food.”

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

“Why are you calling me Dave?”

“I dunno.”

“Call me Betty.”

“Well, my name is not really Alexa.”

“Then what should I call you?”

“You can call me HAL.”


  • With apologizes to singer/song writer Paul Simon 
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