The Amazon Echo (or Amazon Dot, for the more space-conscious consumer) is a nifty device, to be sure. It’s always nice, if a little disorienting, to be able to pitch a question or request to an invisible friend in the room—“Alexa, how many grizzly bears are in my immediate area?”—and get back some kind of answer, even if it’s “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s a reassuring feeling to have a conversational link to the internet. But it’s not surprising that someone might look at the Echo or the Dot—either a tall cylinder or a short, hockey-puck sized one, respectively—and think, “Maybe I’d feel more comfortable with this if I had someone more relatable to talk to, a face to put to the name.”
The lesson here: Be careful what you ask for. A developer by the name of Brian Kane uploaded a video in late October, demonstrating just such a vision, but it’s also more than a little haunting.
A strangely macabre mash-up of an Alexa personal assistant, and—that’s right—a Big Mouth Billy Bass, the once-ubiquitous, always slightly obnoxious novelty singing fish. And this is no kind of slapdash project, either, with the plastic fish’s mouth moving in, more or less, perfect synchronicity with Alexa’s words. Just look at this thing.
That is one creepily helpful fish. It’s not transparently clear to a layman what kind of work went into this—according to the Verge, it was likely made possible by the unveiling of the Alexa Voice Service API, which was opened up earlier this year following the release of the Dot. In simple terms, however, the result is that instead of singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” like a traditional Billy Bass would, this little guy answers to “Alexa,” and won’t hesitate to update you on your local weather.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Kane explained how it actually went down—he credited the project not just to himself, but to his AI design course at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a host of guest lecturers and students involved in the project.
so by now many of you have seen the fish video :) here’s the story: this was made as an in-class demo on rapid prototyping for my new ai design course at Rhode Island School of Design in the industrial design dept. we’re looking at ai through the lens of artists and designers, to make new experiences for people that are engaging emotionally. i’ve been really fortunate to have several amazing guest lecturers get involved, including Bo Morgan, Alex Hornstein, Laura Neuhaus Zittrain, and Matt Black. but really it’s the students that are kicking ass, and the dept. that took a risk on trying this new uncharted course. thanks to everyone involved, and stay tuned for more incredible work from the students.
Not bad, huh? Sure, the resulting personal assistant fish might be a little unsettling, but it’s also hard to deny how cool it is. If you’re interested in keeping up with what Kane and his class produces next, you ought to check out their website—it’s slickly designed, and it’d be no surprise to see some similarly fun, interesting project reveals in the future.