The oldest form of communication

Recently my grandmother sadly passed away, and while in her nineties it still came as a shock to me as not only had she bounced back from many serious illnesses previously she was also my wife’s and I only surviving grandparent. This news pushed our mindset from being our parent’s children to now being the parents and our parents to now being the grandparents. Weird as it sounds even though we have had our own children for the past four years!

Earlier this year we were able to visit my grandmother, affectionately referred to as Meme (as she was French), in Cyprus and introduce her to our youngest daughter who was only one and representing nearly a century between them. It is in those moments that you understand the power of genes and start to revisit the nurture versus nature debate. Certainly, I am reminded constantly of Meme in my children’s actions and behaviours.

We hadn’t appreciated, when we went out, how much old age was taking its toll and that while her brain was still very much engaged, she had started to lose her sight as well as mobility meaning her flat was slowly becoming a prison. So, when we went to visit, I took out an Alexa device in the hope that we could restore some independence and give her an activity to slow the boredom when not being able to read or watch television.

Until this point, I had personally not used voice activated cloud services before, preferring to turn off Siri, Cortina, Alexa and Google’s assistant. Call me paranoid, but having those companies listening to my conversations constantly in the background didn’t fill me with glee and I didn’t appreciate what benefits I could gain from using it. However, seeing my grandmother interact with Alexa to tell her the local news in Limassol, what the weather forecast was, and most importantly read some of her favourite books was spellbinding.

This is where the application of the technological leap was quite incredible as the only thing I had to explain was that to ask for anything she needed to start any sentence with ‘Alexa…’. I didn’t have to show her how to turn the speaker on or off, how to open or close applications and most importantly how to train her voice. Out of the box it understood her heavily accented English sentences and, I feel, helped make those last few month’s more pleasurable.

The technology moved, as it should, into the background and enabled my grandmother to have back some independence and dignity. She was able to converse with Amazon’s servers as though she was talking to a member of the family. And because Alexa, like the others, are cloud based I was able to, from the UK, update books and ensure she was getting the most from it.

While I haven’t personally taken the leap yet into voice enabling our home, it did open my eyes to how modern voice recognition had moved on and the breadth of applications it brings to all parts of our society. Certainly, with nearly 10% of the world unable to read these kind of advancements help democratise access to information and brings more of our society into the information age.

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