Market's Fine Print

Thanks for Nothing, Alexa

Amazon Echo's Alexa has an embarrassingly poor knowledge and wisdom base when it comes to almost anything country, John Harrington discovered. (DTN photo illustration by Scott Kemper)

December 28, 2016

Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO
410 Terry Ave. North
Seattle, WA

Dear Mr. Bezos,

My mother would be so proud of this letter. Not that she ever knew you, let alone imagined your creative genius, online retail empire, or technologically pioneering spirit. No, this brief note would make her proud of me, yours truly. After 60-plus years of parental nagging, I am finally acknowledging Christmas gifts with formal and timely expressions of gratitude.

But there I go again, procrastinating even before the ink on paragraph "1" is dry. Let me just spit it out:

Thank you so much, sir. (May I call you Jeff?) The services and products of Amazon rocked my holiday like Santa wired on eggnog laced with Red Bull.

Where should I begin? Actually, given the huge stack of logo-emblazoned boxes standing in the wake of Christmas morning's wrapping paper blizzard, you guys deserve credit for pretty much the entire gift-giving orgy. It boggles the mind how much margin money I could have saved over the years by exclusively focusing on the long side of cardboard futures.

Generally speaking, I salute your incomparable dedication and commitment to the art of delivery. Not even Rudolph and his supersonic reindeer pals can hold an Advent candle to Amazon's amazing free (i.e., with Prime) bundle of two-day shipping, precise package tracking and no-hassle return policy.

More specifically, as a guardian and promoter of agricultural markets, I applaud the company's expanding and visionary business model in this regard. In so many ways, Jeff-Man, you're putting wheels under steaks, chops and all the trimmings like never before. Programs like Amazon Fresh, Amazon Go and Amazon Restaurants all promise to make the exhausting work of pushing a grocery cart or actually sitting up for dinner as obsolete as churning butter and shoeing horses.

And it's impossible to express how excited I am about your secret drone research. Regardless how long the postponed unveiling turns out to be, everyone in the livestock business is confident the market-changing news will be well worth the wait. Revolutionizing the speed and economy of commodity transport (e.g., from ground beef crumbles to Porter House steak, from new-born calf to slaughter bull), your drone dream could radically change traditional channels of production and consumption.

Trust me, my new friend, those small minds stewing over air-traffic nightmares are nothing but worrywarts.

I hope all these positive comments have encouraged you to trust me.

When it comes to a love of innovation and greater efficiency, there's no question that we're on the same page. Indeed, if you disregard a net worth difference of $67 billion and change, we're practically the same person.

So with that essential oneness in mind, please accept the following criticism in the constructive spirit intended. It's about your new product Echo. You know, the smart device capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, providing weather and all kinds of information. You know, the clever but not-so-smart gadget my son and his wife gifted my way Sunday.

To be frank, Jeffy-Boy, it needs work -- at least if it wants a farm and ranch future.

Let's start with the "wake-word" required to prompt any feedback.

"Alexa" sounds like either the best friend of Melania Trump or a character on the old soap opera "Dynasty." What it doesn't sound like is a dependable hand that knows how to castrate pigs, put up hay or sort cattle.

Please change this trigger as soon as possible. If total customizing is impossible, I would suggest an option to choose among the following: "Elmer," "Maude" or "Fritz."

But the far bigger issue is "Alexa's" embarrassingly poor knowledge and wisdom base when it comes to almost anything country. Just consider this small sample of rudimentary questions that produced nothing more from Echo that static, smoke and sparks:

"Alexa, how much snow will Garden City get in February?"

"Alexa, will the U.S. have a trade war with China?"

"Alexa, what's the secret to my banker's heart?"

"Alexa, who is the new secretary of Agriculture?"

"Alexa, when and at what price level will the fed cattle market top in 2017?"

I'm not about to spoil this well-intended note of gratitude by relaying how your crazy lady in the tall cylinder pathetically tried to address these critical concerns. Suffice it to say that answers found in the 1951 Farmers' Almanac were no worse.

Sincerely thankful and watching for the next upgrade,

John Harrington