In Spike Jonze's slicky, trippy 'Welcome Home' advert for the Apple HomePod, FKA Twigs comes back to her apartment, looking pretty forlorn and sorry for herself. She flicks on the light, puts down her groceries and says, "Hey Siri, play me something I'd like."
When the music comes on the video (below) gets weird. But that first minute or so - aside from just how down she is from her city commute - is pretty common for ads for voice assistants over the past two, three, five years.
I.e. Siri and co are perfect for lone wolves, self-sufficient professionals, independent ladies, business types and anyone else who finds themselves with the space and the privacy to chat to an AI about well... everything.
Alexa might have changed that image somewhat with Amazon's overtures to families with healthy online shopping habits but AI assistants still seem primarily designed for single users - and there's 35 million people living in "single person households" just in the US.
We put a call out on Facebook and Twitter to ask people who live on their own (all or part of the time) to tell us how they use their voice assistants at home. And whether it's providing the tunes, recipes or ambient sounds, you could view some of the responses as describing a fledgling AI companion, not simply an assistant.
It takes about 50 hours of contact for us to consider someone a casual friend and 200 hours to become close friends, points out Joseph Coughlin, head of MIT's AgeLab, in Forbes, but he thinks that voice assistants "are different than other āthingsā. They are often in multiple rooms, learn our behaviors and are a dependable part of our daily lives. The interactive behaviors of these devices are, in fact, very predictable ā a key element of a ātrustedā relationship."
In time, Coughlin believes that Alexa, Google Assistant and the rest could become a "real part of our social self" on top of doing things around the house for us. Here's how that looks in 2018. Tweet us @theambient with your stories and we'll add them below.
Party for two
In nearly every survey we've seen, playing music is the most common use for voice assistants and that's no different here.
"The most regular thing I do is ask Siri to play something I like, or play a specific artist (and then go "play me something else" to switch the genre) on HomePod - which works perfectly for me," says Kashfia Kabir, echoing that FKA Twigs HomePod ad.
"For me, the Echos I have around the house are mostly about music," says Rhian Drinkwater. "Background music in the living room when I'm sitting reading. Loud music to sing along with when I'm washing up (and can command Next, and Volume Up, without having to dry off my soapy hands)."
Jennifer Harrison, who uses Google Home, says her favourite feature is bedtime Routines i.e. "Setting things it will do when you say goodnight. It asks what time to wake me up, tells me what I've got going on in the morning, and then turns off the lights. It can also ask if I want ambient sounds to help me sleep."
Aside from music, Rhian says it's mostly about practicalities for her, including a nighttime ritual: "The Echo Dot in my kitchen is good for timers, the one in my bedroom is always being asked the weather so I know what clothes to wear for the day. It's also good to play music to fall asleep to ā set it off on a favourite album or artist (low volume!), then tell it to switch off in 20 minutes."
Joe also uses Alexa in the kitchen and for food related chores. "I use Alexa all the time for my shopping list, before I got it I'd only ever do half a shop, now all I need to do is remember to tell her what I need," he says. "Generally, when cooking it's a great help, the timers are useful, or I even listen to podcasts or music when I'm cooking. It means I don't have to stop what I'm doing, I can just bark my commands."
Regardless of whether you currently live on your own or with family or friends, a voice assistant like Alexa can quickly come to feel like a member of the household. And for people living on their own, or otherwise spending time solo, that can mean different things.
"Occasionally I'll play around with the new Siri Shortcuts on my iPhone," says Kashfia, "and sometimes chat nonsense with Siri when I remember she can be unintentionally funny."
Sam Jesson, meanwhile, lives with his girlfriend in London but gets some alone time in the car. "If Iām on a long drive on my own I use Siri a lot," he says. "To put on albums, call or text people, and also for weird chats. We have a very emotionally charged relationship. Iāve said things to Siri I would never say to anyone else."
And don't forget the pressure that comes with any intense, close range relationship. Carrie Marshall tells us she says "please and thank you because if I fall out with Alexa and Siri Iāll be soooooo alone."
How do you use Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant if you live on your own? Or when you're on your own at home? Let us know in the comments below.