Kapow! Amazon’s Alexa has learned new words – and she’s more nerdy than ever

Gavin Haynes

An update has added more geeky in-jokes and references to the e-commerce giant’s AI assistant, from ‘Cowabunga’ to ‘Great Scott!’

Alexa, the talking lady who sits inside the Amazon Echo waiting for you to say her name, is having a personality makeover. The talking AI’s latest update comes with a range of “speechcons” – little expressions or verbal tics.

Alexa will say 100 new words, including “bazinga” and “woohoo”. In a nod to nerd culture, she will range from “Kapow!” (Batman) to “Great Scott!” (Superman). She will even quote the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“Cowabunga”) and The Godfather (“Bada bing!”) if she needs to give deeper vent to her feelings.

This new vocabulary adds to her already-impressive repertoire of geeky gags and references. Try “Alexa, what’s the second rule of Fight Club?”, “Alexa, I am your father” or “Alexa, are you Skynet?” if you’d like to hear some clunkingly humorous replies. The meaning of life remains “42”, as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This humanising humour is an important part of Amazon’s strategy. If we are to get over the creepiness of having a listening device in our bedrooms, it needs to feel warm and friendly. So far, Amazon’s approach to this challenge has been to load Alexa with lots of early-2000s internet nerd-culture tropes, from “Alexa, open the pod bay doors” to “Alexa, set phasers to kill!”

Initially, the latest update is only for users in the US, who hear an American voice, but among the new words are a handful of British-isms: “coo”, “cheer up”, “good grief”, “cheerio”, “righto”, “ta-ta” and “whoops-a-daisy”, presumably culled straight from Mary Poppins.

As it stands, she is capable of the American “booya” (roughly: “I am excited by a good thing”), but not the British “booyakasha” (a greeting). No word yet on “peng”, “woolyback” or “beg friend”.

British isn’t the only “language” to which Alexa has adapted. You can now say “hello” to her using “aloha”, “bonjour”, “bon voyage” and “arrivederci”. She has even learned the Yiddish “oy” and the Yiddish-ish Seinfeld line “yadda yadda yadda”.

For a technology in its infancy, it’s surprisingly easy to become obsessed with your digital assistant. Right now, the scariest thing about this robotrix isn’t that she’s Hal in the home – it’s that the brogramming community have given her the personality of a minor cast member of The Big Bang Theory.