I started using Alexa before it was cool. I bought a first-generation Echo a few months after its launch because Amazon.com showed me a banner ad as I was shopping for new speakers. After it arrived, my then-roommate, a software engineer at Google, eagerly compared Alexa’s capabilities with those of her Google Assistant. Alexa didn’t really measure up. But as far as I was concerned, it did everything I wanted: it played my favorite songs, sounded my morning alarms, and sometimes told me the news and weather.
Five years later, my simple desires have been eclipsed by Amazon’s ambitions. Alexa is now distributed everywhere, capable of controlling more than 85,000 smart home products from TVs to doorbells to earbuds.