By Marina Laven

The day started inauspiciously. I slept through the alarm, spilled coffee on a carefully ironed shirt (yes, I still iron, you can laugh as much as you want) and was almost running out of the door when I realized that I forgot to buy a present for a friend whose birthday party I am going to right after work. And of course, today is one of those days packed with meetings and no time in-between to go shopping for a present. And my friend, to tell the truth, is quite high maintenance. I panicked for a second and then – eureka! – I yelled with one foot in the door:

“Alexa, please buy a present for Natalie and have it delivered to my work!”

“Of course,” said a pleasant female voice coming from a round shining black box on my living room coffee table. “What would you like me to buy?”

“Come on, Alexa,” I whined in desperation. “You are smarter than that. Figure it out!”

I slammed the door and ran, grateful that, luckily, black shining round boxes cannot run after you with stupid questions. I jumped into my sleek self-driving Tesla and went over the presentation on the way to work. When I got to the office, I found a beautifully wrapped blue box sitting on my desk. ‘To Natalie from her best friend’, read the card attached to it.

“A drone dropped it 5 minutes ago,” commented Alexa dispassionately.

Boy, how did I live without Alexa?

None of this happened, of course.

Not yet.

However, the only made-up character in this little story is my high-maintenance friend Natalie. Everybody else is real. Alexa is a new(ish) Amazon Echo device, a round box you put on your coffee table, which is capable of answering your questions, playing music, providing real time information and making purchases for you (from Amazon, of course). It costs $179 USD on Amazon (only available on Amazon.com for now).

Alexa is definitely exciting, though not yet as smart as I described her. She will be one day. As will be many other things ‘talking’ to each other, connecting us to the outside world. The Internet of things. Everybody has heard a story about a ‘smart’ fridge making grocery purchases for us. But did you ever ask how the fridge is going to make a purchasing decision? Well, we can provide it with a list of things we want it to purchase. But do we want Dempster’s 12 grain bread or Country Harvest’s loaf? (Dempster’s!). What if it is out of stock? What if Country Harvest is on sale? We can’t program every single situation into the fridge, but we would have to provide some general guidelines. What will drive our purchasing decisions when we are removed from points of sale, can think a bit more rationally, and are not likely to make an impulse buy? How will it affect brands and their communications with consumers? How will companies make sure that Alexa orders their product and not the competitor’s?

What is in that beautifully wrapped blue box? I give us 5 to 10 years to figure it out.