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Amazon is America’s silliest inventor. It needs to take more care

Amazon has achieved something remarkable in the seven years since it introduced the first home speaker with its Alexa and voice assistant. The company has convinced millions of people to keep an Amazon computer (or two or 10) in their homes and change their habits.

I’m unhappy with the relentless pace of new Amazon inventions and a little tired. On Tuesday, the company unveiled the $ 1000 ($ 1,400) Alexa on wheels, a few home security cameras, a thermostat that learns your temperature preferences, and a video conferencing gadget for children to interact with.

The roaming Alexa robot Astro plays on people's worst fears.

The roaming Alexa robot Astro plays on people’s worst fears.

It’s good to think of many of these new Amazon things as common experiments. Amazon is the stupid inventor of America. Ron Popil and Alexa without a filter. Amazon makes any Doodle you can dream of and see what people do with it.

Some products won’t catch on — you probably wouldn’t have bought an Alexa-powered ring — but some will. Amazon lets people get hints from what they do to further change their devices and Internet add-ons. We are co-founders with Amazon.

As long as people know that they’m human guinea pigs for half-baked products, Amazon will definitely say, “Sure, why not ?!” Fashion is an inspiring way to do new things. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s serious approach to releasing small quantities of highly refined products after years of secret tinkering.


The downside of Amazon’s regular inventions is that they tend to slow down and ask: Are we sure this is a good idea? Why? What is this for? Is this what ordinary people want? If so, do we know the best way to give it to them?

On Tuesday, Amazon’s biggest idea was anxiety. The spinning Alexa robot Astro – new security cameras and home surveillance and adult security support lines – played on people’s worst fears that something terrible would happen to our homes or the people we care about. (Amazon executive Dave Limp, who oversees the company’s equipment, told me he had three teenagers and that one of Astro’s inspirations was training in his home liquor cabinet.)

Fear is a powerful emotion. We buy anything to protect what we care about. But the vision of a great American inventor is to install 24/7 virtual guards inside and outside our homes. Does it buy peace of mind, or does it increase our fears? What kind of world does it produce? Do more complex duds really protect our homes and our loved ones better?




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