What does Alexa look like?
You've probably never sat down and thought about it – but I bet you have an image in your head when you chat to the voice assistant via an Amazon Echo or Alexa device. Maybe a celebrity or someone you saw on an advert five years ago. Maybe a vague female form or floating head. Much like listening to podcasts, or reading a book, talking to a disembodied voice requires a little imagination.
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After a few chats in the office that would have conclusively proven she is a middle aged woman with short, red hair, we put out a call asking people what they think Alexa looks like. And we got everything from TV presenters to femme robots to space farts.
What do our answers say about us? Is the Alexa in our head who we fancy? Who we want to mother us or do menial tasks for us? Or an image that we think is sci-fi enough for a helpful AI that lives in your house?
The answers also obviously depend on what accent Alexa has in your country – most of our responses so far have been from the UK and US. Play at home and tweet us @theambient with your pic and/or description and we'll add it to this story.
Ones and zeroes
First, it makes sense to go to the authority on Alexa… Alexa.
We asked Amazon's voice assistant "Alexa, what do you look like?" The reply? "I look like lots of ones and zeroes."
We tried a few more, like a game of Guess Who? where you give up after five goes because the AI you're talking to isn't a person
- "Alexa, are you a woman?" "I'm female in character."
- "Alexa, what colour is your hair?" "I don't actually have any hair."
- "Alexa, what colour are your eyes?" "I don't have eyes but my light ring has lots of colours."
- "Alexa, how tall are you?" "I'm around 235mm tall"
- "Alexa, what colour is your skin?" "Here's what I found on Wikipedia: Human skin varies in colour…"
Manic pixie girl robots
So we know Alexa is female in character, but it seems that part of us still identifies the voice assistant with a sci-fi robot or entity in some way.
Becca Caddy, tech and science writer
"In my mind she’s definitely a robot. When it comes to how she looks and moves, she sits somewhere between Ava from Ex Machina and C-3PO. A female form, but unmistakably a robot. Or at least a very sci-fi movie-inspired idea of what a robot looks like rather than anything steeped in reality."
Tom Radford, graphic designer
"I just think of Alexa as a computer like Siri but if she looks like anything, it's probably the robot from Ex Machina."
Gagan Bhatnagar, doctor
"Like Cortana from Halo. Alexa would probably look the same… but maybe with longer hair. I've clearly given this too much thought to be healthy."
Connie from the AOL advert
Tom Wiggins, freelance journalist
"Like a lot of people in their thirties, AOL was responsible for my first forays onto the internet, so it’s hardly surprising that any anthropomorphism of the world wide web reminds me of Connie – the vaguely robotic, know-it-all mascot AOL used for its TV ads at the turn of the millennium. Like Alexa, she was sanctimonious, often irritating and just emotionless enough that you could never be sure she wasn’t plotting the downfall of the human race in her spare time."
Janet from The Good Place
Lisa Gevinson, student
"I can't help but think of the assistant, Janet, who can help you with anything from acquiring skittles to drugs from The Good Place. Just don't forget, she's not human!"
David Chartier, content strategist/writer
"The one-off character Fart from the Rick and Morty episode Mortynight Run." [In the show, Fart is actually voiced by Jermaine Clement.]
Both Americans and Brits went straight for celebs (and let's say, generally known faces) from their respective countries.
Husain Sumra, reporter, Wareable
"There’s something about Alexa’s delivery. It’s not quite spunky, but it’s not butler-ish either. You can tell that she means business, but she’s not going to spend her time wishing she could serve you, you know what I mean? That makes Kristen Bell the perfect representation of Alexa in human form. She’s spunky, but not too spunky as to make it her defining trait. Also, I really see Alexa as a shorter person with a good sense of style, sharp, short blonde hair and piercing blue eyes."
David Hicks, head of design, Salmon
Hugh Langley, US editor, Wareable
"For reasons I can’t fully explain, I imagine Alexa’s voice as Alice Yang. You don’t know who Alice Yang is? When Android Wear showed up in 2014, hers was the face Google used to sell it. She was on all the demos and marketing, the John Appleseed of Android Wear, and always asking the same thing: “Hey, do you want to get dinner tonight?” I suppose maybe the fact that Alice Perma-Hungry Yang never had a voice – and Alexa doesn’t have a face – meant my strange brain just blended them into one fully functioning human. So yeah, Alice Yang, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry."
British TV personalities
A decent percentage of our team members and well, British people who replied on Twitter went straight for a TV national treasure as what they picture when they chat to (UK) Alexa.
Julie Price, commercial director, Wareable
"She looks a bit like Fiona Bruce in my head!" [Ed's note: We got quite a few Fiona Bruce related replies].
Paul Lamkin, director, The Ambient
"For me, Alexa is a young Mary Portas – but a bit less stern. There was actually an email sent round a while ago, about some crappy IoT event and one of the speaker's pictures was pretty much exactly what I picture Alexa to look like (i.e. a less stern Mary Portas). It was uncanny, it’s like they printed her picture from my mind. However, I can’t find the picture now, so here’s a picture of Mary Portas. Imagine this, but less stern. That’s Alexa."
Rob Carney, design and editorial services lead, TFL
"Short dark hair. For some reason in a suit. Definitely glasses."
Conor Allison, reporter, Wareable
"A bit of an odd one, but when I hear Alexa I associate her with Coronation Street’s Sally Webster. ‘Big soap fan, this guy,’ you’re probably thinking to yourself. Incorrect. This is completely irrational, and I have no idea where it stems from."
What kids think Alexa looks like
Time to get the pencils and paint out. No boring Google image searches for imaginative kids who live with Alexa at home like Gabriel and Matilda Ranieri.
Gabriel, aged nine
Matilda, aged five
Grey haired lady
Sophie Charara, associate editor, The Ambient
"A few images seem to have smushed together in my mind. I see a young woman with long, grey hair, dressed in a Quality Street-metallic outfit, lounging around in an old timey mansion/prison. She is possibly a robot, looking up at the ceiling, answering mine and my flatmates' questions. Weird that she's not in my flat, right?"
Sharp blonde ponytail part 1
Rhian Drinkwater, freelance journalist/knitwear designer
"She sounds quite posh and refined. So fairly tall, dressed in a smart blouse and skirt, long blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. Does that sound weird?!"
Sharp blonde ponytail part 2
Andy Kelly, writer for PC Gamer
"Sorta Scandinavian looking. Early thirties. Really neat blonde hair, tied back. Like an air hostess. Fuck knows why I think that."
A floating face
Emma Goodman, graphic designer
"Dark bob, kind of robotic but still human. She's very neat. I can only picture her head not her body so I don't think she has a body. I can't picture what she'd be wearing."
Or maybe just… nothing
Libby Plummer, freelance journalist
"I don't think Alexa looks like anything. I think she's just a computer with a voice. Like HAL (but nicer)."
— Joie De Vivre (@jamesdevile) April 3, 2018
The woman from the Trivago advert
— Anna (@annaxciii) April 3, 2018
OK, I've been moonlighting....
— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) April 3, 2018