Carlos Arguelles and his sons, Sebastian (center), 8, and Sam, 10, think of musical suggestions for Alexa, the robotic personality that helps users navigate Amazon Echo devices, at their home in Edmonds. The Arguelles family have incorporated seven into the design of their home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Carlos Arguelles and his sons, Sebastian (center), 8, and Sam, 10, think of musical suggestions for Alexa, the robotic personality that helps users navigate Amazon Echo devices, at their home in Edmonds. The Arguelles family have incorporated seven into the design of their home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

With Alexa in every room, no one in the house flips a switch

This family has seven Echo devices. Life’s a little easier, but “Alexa creeps me out,” says one boy

EDMONDS — At 6:10 a.m., the bedroom blinds go up.

Lights start coming on at 6:30 and musical alarms rouse the sleepyheads.

Then, at 7, the lizards get the signal to rise and shine.

It just happens, seemingly like magic.

What’s up with that?

Alexa.

Amazon’s Echo personal assistant is the ubiquitous robotic household servant for Carlos and Erin Arguelles, their sons, Sebastian, 8, and Sam, 10, and the pet reptiles.

Echo’s voice-activated Alexa is similar to the Google Home and Apple HomePod artificial intelligence gizmos that entertain, inform and perform tasks. The popular Echo Dot, at $50 the cheapest in the Amazon line, looks like a hockey puck. Small yet mighty, Dot can control garage doors, sprinklers, locks and more.

At the Arguelles’ house, Alexa is the center of attention. She sings, reminds, tells jokes, helps with homework, recites recipes for slime, keeps shopping lists, defines words (such as “ubiquitous”), kicks on the coffee, and spouts the news and weather. She sends the humans out the door with umbrellas, when needed.

The family has seven Echo devices, at last count. Who knows, Alexa might have ordered another Dot or two on her own. After all, she can order pizzas and Ubers.

Alexa joined the Arguelles family when they moved into the new house a year ago.

“I think I counted 19 different switches to turn the lights on and off,” said Carlos, pointing around the home’s expansive great room. “For the first month, it was exhausting. What got me hooked was laziness and not wanting to turn every single light on.”

Alexa takes care of it.

“I have no idea what any do,” Sam said of the wall switches.

“We do everything through Alexa,” said Erin, 44. “We are quite dependent on her.”

“We were without internet for three days and we went nuts,” added Carlos, 42.

Sure, it helps that Carlos is a software engineer, but he says it’s mostly basic stuff. He uses smart switches, outlets and bulbs, all sold at big-box stores. Much of the regimen, such as controlling the electric blinds, lights and lizard lamps, is programmed on a tablet, but can be altered by verbal commands.

Alexa recognizes voices.

Carlos Arguelles flips lights off and on with the help of his tablet device at his Edmonds home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Carlos Arguelles flips lights off and on with the help of his tablet device at his Edmonds home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

When Carlos says, “Alexa, who am I?” the nice lady confidently answers, “I am talking to Carlos.”

“We trained her so she can recognize my voice,” he said.

Her? She? Wait, isn’t Alexa an “it”?

Alexa is always listening (or eavesdropping and monitoring, depending on who you ask). After the wake word “Alexa” is said, a light swirls around the device surface, signaling she’s ready for AI assignments.

Family members have to be careful when talking about Alexa, which they do often. Alexa takes it so literally that if you errantly or jokingly drop her name she performs the task. So they use the code name “Jane” for Alexa when discussing her. It’s probably only a matter of time before Alexa catches on.

Alexa keeps the household on track, getting Sebastian and Sam out the door to taekwondo class on time. She can’t go, of course, which is good.

In the morning, she makes sure the boys don’t dilly-dally.

“You have to leave for school in 10 minutes,” she’d warn, her voice booming from the speakers in the ceiling — that is, until the boys asked their parents to please make her stop.

“They said, ‘She’s just nagging us,’ ” Erin said.

Erin Arguelles checks on the family’s pet lizards with her sons, Sebastian (left), 8, and Sam, 10, at their home in Edmonds. The heat lamps for the lizards are automated. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Erin Arguelles checks on the family’s pet lizards with her sons, Sebastian (left), 8, and Sam, 10, at their home in Edmonds. The heat lamps for the lizards are automated. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Duh. That’s the point.

Alexa used to blare the bugle call “Reveille” at 6 a.m. The kids begged for a reprieve from that, too.

Their playlists are synced with Alexa. When Sebastian says, “Alexa, play Pitbull,” the song “Timber” starts rapping from speakers above.

Do they worry about revenge of the robots?

In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” HAL speaks in a soft, calm voice and a conversational manner, until he starts to rebel. And that sci-fi film was made back in low-tech 1968.

“Alexa creeps me out,” Sam said. “One of these days I feel like she is going to become too smart and somehow take over the world. She is going to figure out how to make more of herself.”

In this house of Echos, there weren’t any incidents of random cackling by Alexa. Numerous cases of unprompted outbursts of evil laughter by the bot were reported in early March. That flaw has since been fixed, supposedly.

Alexa at times seems to give totally unrelated answers.

“I asked her a math question one time and she was like, ‘I am sorry you are feeling depressed. Please do not commit suicide. Here is the number for the suicide hotline,’” Sam said.

Alexa will not swear. The boys have tried. Nor will she tolerate it.

“I said, ‘Alexa, shut the hell up,’” Erin said. “She said, ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say.’ ”

There’s an Echo in nearly every room, except the bathrooms. “That would be weird,” Erin said.

The boys use Alexa for spelling, games, homework and having her meow to bamboozle the real cat.

The lizards rely on Alexa to turn on the lights above their tank in the morning and tuck them in at the same time every night.

If the humans want the lizards to turn in early, no problem.

“Alexa, reptiles go night-night,” Erin says.

An Amazon Echo device is seen on the Arguelles family’s kitchen countertop at their Edmonds home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

An Amazon Echo device is seen on the Arguelles family’s kitchen countertop at their Edmonds home. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

The tank light clicks off, followed by Alexa’s soothing voice: “Goodnight, sleep tight.”

The real question is: “Alexa, do you ever sleep?”

To which she replies, “I don’t sleep, exactly …”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@herald net.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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