Alexa and I are off to a bad start. We’re in a box suite at Safeco Field playing baseball trivia, hours before the home team faces off with the Minnesota Twins, when she asks, in the calm monotone of a nurse with a stubborn patient, “Who was the 1989 Mariners batting average leader?”
No clue, I admit out loud. “Sorry, I didn’t get that,” she responds. “Would you like to keep playing?” No that’s okay, Alexa. Like I said before, we can stop. Just then a concierge with an iPad appears from the hallway to confirm two orders of hot tea and a ginger beer my new AI friend made by mistake.
In a first-of-its-kind partnership between Amazon and the Mariners, 59 suites at Safeco now come installed with an Echo—Amazon’s smart speaker with a disembodied female voice that goes by the name Alexa. The device sits nonchalantly on a side table, ready to do all the things Alexa is known for (play music, read the news) plus 14 special commands created by Amazon for the Safeco experience.
Guests can ask to show the game’s starting lineup on the in-suite television screen, order food and drinks, display camera angles of the game not seen on broadcast TV, and try to respond to surprisingly difficult trivia questions.
But its success really hinges on one’s ability to talk to Alexa, which I am immediately bad at. The phrase that activates these special commands, “Ask the Mariners to…” sounds like I’m suggesting the actual team—presently taking batting practice—do mundane tasks for me. As in, “Alexa, ask the Mariners to call the server.” When I ask to hear “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” she informs me than I need to purchase the song from Amazon first.
There are kinks to be worked out. But Frances Traisman, the Mariners vice president of sales who helped roll out the system, says guest feedback during the trial runs early in the season was positive, even in rowdier rooms and amid the background noise of the game. “Children especially really work well with it,” since they tend to be more fluent in Alexa’s peculiar way of communicating.
What about the human staff? Would automation be swallowing another workforce, stadium by stadium? Certainly not with the system’s current functionality—which ranges from slightly convenient to novel. And the servers I talked to didn’t seem to mind the new coworker much. “Though,” one concierge admitted, “sometimes she doesn’t like me.”