Meet Ethel, an artificially intelligent virtual assistant

Intelligence is the capacity for learning, reasoning, and understanding truths, facts, meanings and
relationships.
So when the wife suggested we purchase an artificially intelligent virtual assistant my thought was,
“Great. I’m never going to have to think again.”
“Honey,” the wife said, “I want you to meet Ethel. She is a new addition to our family.”
So I am looking around for a small older lady, or a puppy, or a ferret, or something, but I saw nothing.

“Here, this is Ethel,” she said holding out a device of some sort.
“That’s Ethel? Well, I don’t want to be mean or anything but Ethel looks a lot like a speaker. I’d shake
her hand but she doesn’t have any.”
“Ethel is the latest craze in artificial intelligence,” the wife said all a titter, “She talks, answers
questions, plays music, gives you weather forecasts, reports the latest news.”
“Does she complain about the trash getting full or the lawn needing mowed? Because if she does, you can
take Ethel right back to the artificial store you bought her from.”
“Go ahead, ask Ethel a question.”
“OK, Ethel … how many fingers?” I said waving three in front of her cylindrical face.
Thinking a moment Ethel said, “You have approximately 10 fingers, seven of which you are hiding.”
“Pretty impressive, right?” the wife said. “Perhaps you can come up with a more complicated question.”

“OK,” I said accepting the challenge. Placing my thumb between two fingers I asked Ethel, “Who’s got your
nose?”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” the wife said. “Ethel, who was the 23rd president of the United States?
“Thank you for asking. The 23rd president of the United States was Benjamin Harrison,” Ethel said smugly.

“I don’t believe you Ethel,” I argued. “For all I know you could have made that up.”
“Well I didn’t ,you moron. He was president from 1889-1893.”
“Oh yeah? Well if you’re so gosh darn smart, what size shoe did Ben wear?”
Unable to hide her contempt Ethel said, “Are you for real? What difference does that make? He was 5-feet,
6-inches inches tall so probably size 8.”
“Ah-ha. You’re just guessing,” I accused.
“Stop,” the wife shouted. “What is wrong with you? You are arguing with a speaker.”
“She started it,” I said defensively.
“I bought Ethel to enhance our standard of living, to be an assistant in making life more pleasant by
providing interesting facts and playing soothing music,” the wife said. “Now I want you to apologize to
Ethel and welcome her to our home.”
Feeling somewhat ashamed for my behavior I said, “I’m sorry, Ethel. I shouldn’t have been so rude. I look
forward to having you in our home.”
“Why thank you,” Ethel said. “That’s so nice of you. I look forward to being your virtual assistant. Now
if you could please, that trash is looking a little full.”
Raul Ascunce is a freelance columnist for the Sentinel-Tribune. He may be contacted at
[email protected]