Remote Control

I was sitting in the living room the other day, asking Alexa to play various music. “Alexa, play the Born To Run album by Bruce Springsteen,” I said. Alexa played the album. “Alexa, play Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan,” I asked. Alexa played the album. Later, I said, “Alex, what’s happening in the news?” and Alexa gave me a “flash briefing” that was perfectly adequate.

Sitting there, I marveled at how far we’d come in the four decades since I was a child. Not even the Jetsons could talk to their house. I can ask Alexa to turn the heat up in the house, and Alexa will talk to the Nest we have installed and turn up the heat. To play music, I had to find the record I wanted to play, and put it on the record player.

There is so much we can do these days with automated technology that the stuff that we can’t do—but should be able to do easily—boggles my mind. Take television remote control for example.

The TV remote should be a thing of the past. Like the rotary phone, television remotes should be found only in museums. At the mention of the word “remote” my kids should give me a curious look and ask, “What’s that, Daddy?” Instead, they know very well what a TV remote is. We tend to have two or three of them per TV.

So much useless tech gets invented these days. It’s almost as if inventors are short on ideas. And yet, the television remote is a perfect example of a niche ripe for innovation. Remotes should be a thing of the past. Why I still need a remote device to control my television, or BluRay player is beyond my comprehension. There should be a universal device, like Alexa, that allows me to control and manage all of my entertainment systems with simple voice commands.

  • “Turn on the TV…” and the TV goes on.
  • “Play ‘Fixer Upper’,” and the system searches for the show, either live or on an app I have installed like Netflix or the HGTV app, and plays the episode.
  • “Mute the television.”
  • “Turn on the BluRay.”
  • “Switch to the Yankee game.”
  • “Pause the game. Unpause the game.”
  • “Skip the commercial.”
  • “Play ‘Star Wars.’”

So far, I haven’t seen a single system that can do all of this. The kids got an Xbox for Christmas. The cable box plays through the Xbox and Cortana appears to allow me to do some of these things. But Cortana does not seem nearly as adept at recognizing my commands as Alexa does. I can tell Cortana to mute the TV, or to find a show to watch, or pause the TV. But, so far, I can’t figure out how to tell Cortana to turn on the BluRay device.

It is clear that there are devices that easily interpret what we say (Alexa), and there are other devices that easily integrate with our TV’s (Xbox). But there are none that fully take over and improve upon the job of our needless surplus of remote controls.

I look forward to the day when remote control devices are a thing of the past. I’ll walk into the family room, and simply ask Alexa (or its equivalent), “Is there anything good on right now?”

It will reply, “I’m afraid not,” and I’ll head back to my computer to write.

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