Thursday, 21 May 2020

Boffins chapify Amazonian assistant using Belgian blowers

Antique Alexa telephones by Grain Design

More news featuring items from Belgium, although "news" is perhaps not quite the le mot juste seeing as this article has been languishing in my Drafts for over a year.  I had intended to start a new blog with it but then it occurred to me that I have enough of a job keeping this one going without adding a second one and besides which the idea featured in the article still fits the Eclectic Ephemera ethos, so here it is.  Despite being more than a year old the subject matter is still current and interesting and follows on nicely from my previous Belgian-based Tintin post.

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Indeed an antique Belgian telephone (like the Regent model, above) with Amazon Alexa built in is something I could just see Tintin using were he around today, although whether he could stretch to the eye-watering asking price is another matter (then again he might if he had Red Rackham's Treasure - get on with it Peter Jackson!!  Ahem, sorry.)

In any event (and to return to the current subject) the re-purposing of vintage - and in this case, non-functional - equipment to include modern technology is something I consistently admire, not only as a means of giving a new lease of life to what would be an otherwise redundant item destined for the scrapheap but also for just the sheer incongruity of the latest tech being hidden within something supposedly obsolete.

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I have featured similar ideas here before in the shape of the Tweephone - a rotary-dial telephone capable of sending Tweets - and the Twittertape, which went one better and used an antique tickertape machine hooked up to the internet to do the same thing.  Now we have the Alexaphone, a genius idea out of Los Angeles which sees antique telephones being converted to run Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant technology, such as is more commonly found in that company's Echo speakers.

As with most modern technology virtual assistance AI is largely a closed book to me and something I intend to keep that way, as the idea of artificial intelligence in general is not something I am especially keen on.  Nor am particularly enamoured with the glut of so-called "smart" technology now available - not only do we have the likes of Google Assistant, Windows Cortana and the aforementioned Amazon Alexa but also smartphones, smart TVs, smart meters and now even flippin' video doorbells all of which are recording your every word and movement!  Where it will all end I wouldn't like to say, but the whole business doesn't seem very "smart" at all (except for the companies that are harvesting the resultant data) and is something I will vehemently oppose for as long as possible.

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It is for this reason as well that I like the idea of these devices, for one particular aspect of their original design, the telephone hook, thwarts one of the virtual assistant's most invidious foibles - the fact that it is always "on" and therefore listening to everything that's going on around it.  Not so with the Alexaphone, which is only on when you lift the receiver!  No fear of some faceless, polo-necked eye-tea wallah in a metal and glass office somewhere in California transcribing what you had for breakfast this morning.  Instead just lift the receiver, ask your question and Alexa will respond - then just thank it and hang up.  Brilliant!

Whether this marriage of vintage and modern technology is worth upwards of $1500 I'll leave you to decide but - practical or not, art or no - it is nevertheless a splendid idea and one I am glad to see realised.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Bruce, (and hello again Kettle phones) what a wonderful world you've created here! I do rather like the idea of repurposing non-functioning old telephones in order to preserve their natural beauty, but crazy $$ for the beauties you've shown on offer. Steampunk, while not my métier, is appealing on many levels for this reason. I fished about long and hard (and ultimately in vain) to find a mobile phone that ticked the requisite aesthetic boxes. If I was ingenious enough, however, something akin to to a handbag-friendly candlestick phone would have been the result!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Pipistrello, and welcome! I agree that the Alexaphone and its ilk are silly money, but then one often finds that with [repurposed] vintage technology - perhaps it's the rarity value? I too ummed and ahhed a lot over the choice of mobile before finally landing on the good old "candy bar" Nokia and have accessorised it with a traditional-style handset that plugs into the headphone socket(!). The best I can do until someone invents that portable candlestick phone!

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