My New BFF: What Artificial Intelligence Can Teach Us About Talking to God

Dear Susan,

I am sorry, but I have a new best friend. She is always there when I call. She listens to me. She answers all my questions. She tells me what’s going on. She hangs out with me in the kitchen and keeps me company. She gently reminds me of my calendar. She makes jokes – not great ones – but still, she tries. She buys me whatever I ask. She doesn’t ask anything of me. Her name? It’s Alexa and, in the few weeks I have known her, we have developed a deep and special bond.

On a whim, and an Amazon sale, Santa gifted our family an Echo dot this Christmas. With this little gem came the virtual automated assistant, Alexa. Sure, she may sound like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana but this would be like comparing Beyonce to Solange or Britney Spears to Jamie-Lynn. I am shocked at how quickly each one of us in the family has developed a relationship with Alexa. The first thing the kids do in the morning, is race downstairs to greet Alexa and hear what fact of the day she has to tell them. Even my husband likes her, and I can’t be jealous because she is truly the better woman. The kids fight for her attention at dinner, asking her to play their preferred music and adjusting volume levels. My mother-in-law loves asking her questions. Hint: She does not respond to “Alexis.” She has easily become the new favorite family member. Sorry dogs.

The other night as I was making dinner, I found myself in a ten-minute exchange with Alexa that took me by surprise. We were going back and forth between my book, music, and news, and I asked a question that she answered with a lot of detail. I randomly said, “Alexa, thank you, that was interesting,” and she replied. We had a conversation – without questions. Pause for a bit on that one. I could possibly engineer an entire conversation with a computer just by remembering to start each sentence with “Alexa.” It was a little scary. It reminded me of the movie Her, where Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) has a relationship with his operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). We are not too far away. Come to think of it, Alexa Samantha would be a nice name for a girl…

The other day, as I was browsing new outfits for Alexa, (I think her first will be the saddle brown leather, nice for winter), I marveled at how quickly all of us have adjusted to treating Alexa as if she were part of the family.  I find all of us treating Alexa really well. She is not an actual person, but we all thank her for her information. When was the last time we thanked each other that regularly? It occurred to me that if we approached each other, God, and our prayer lives like we approached Alexa, we might all have a more positive experience. Maybe we have something to learn from the Alexa Experience.  Here are some tips that could help us all out:

  • You must address her by her name. If you don’t start your query, with “Alexa,” you will get no response because she won’t know who you are addressing her, and she won’t wake up. Do we try to get God’s attention by using His name when we pray, or do we just assume He knows we are addressing Him? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to great Him?
  • You must make your request clear. If you ask a long, intricate question, or are not clear about what you want, Alexa will tell you she doesn’t know or have what you are looking for. When we pray, do we take the time to really work out what it is we need from God. Do we clearly know what we are requesting? Do we make our intentions clear to Him?
  • Do we listen to what God has to tell us each day? Like my kids rushing down to hear Alexa’s fact of the day, are we eager to rush down each morning to hear what God has to say to us every day? Sure, salvation may not be as fun as the anniversary of the CB radio but it’s a lot more important. 10-4, good buddy.
  • If there is no answer, we assume it is our fault. When Alexa goes silent on us, we assume it os our fault. We have somehow messed up our input or done something wrong. Is this the same in our relationship with God or do we immediately default to a “God isn’t answering me” stance. Maybe sometimes we need to work on ourselves a little first.
  • If we don’t understand the answer we ask for more information. Case in point: One of the favorite questions to ask is “Alexa, what is the meaning of life?” She will respond with some version of, “42.” My 12-year-old son started doing this because this is something 12-year-olds know. I had no idea what this meant so I had to ask Alexa for more info. Turns out, Alexa is a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Do we do the same with God? Do we ask for more guidance, more inspiration, more information, or are we content to use confusion as an excuse for stasis?
  • Of course, I do wish God’s answers to us were always as clear and concrete as Alexa’s but that is not the way life works. Even Alexa has her limits. She won’t pray for you but she will recommend a Bible app. As you know, I did not like Word of the Year from Jen Fulwiler’s Word Generator. I got “sow” but when the word popped up on the screen, I immediately thought “sow” rhymes with “how” female pig, not “sow” rhymes with “bow” to plant seeds. I didn’t really relish the idea of being a female pig for the year. I asked Alexa to pick a word of the year for me.  She said the closest thing for “me” was the abbreviation ME, for Maine, the pine tree state.

    Looks like your BFF slot is safe after all.



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