Dear Rabbi Simon
If you don’t mind I have a question for you. On Friday night, my children were in the kitchen chatting and for some reason our Amazon Echo (Alexa) started playing music even though they hadn’t said “her” name! Rap music was playing loudly until midnight in spite of us smothering Alexa with towels! Under these circumstances would we have been able to ask “her” to stop playing, considering it was spoiling our Shabbat? (I wouldn’t have minded so much if she had played zmirot!)
Hopefully this situation won’t happen again as we usually deactivate the voice recognition before Shabbat, but on this occasion, we forgot to do so.
I have looked into your Alexa on Shabbat dilemma. Your experience highlights the complications which this sort of technology can introduce to a Shabbat-observant home/environment. The difficulty here is that it is easy to inadvertently instruct Alexa, but to then deliberately instruct her further must clearly be avoided. Ultimately, you would be directly manipulating an electronic appliance through your instruction. Although this is certainly not the classic way of performing a melakhah on Shabbat, it is the correct and normal way of adjusting the volume, etc etc. for Alexa.
In practical terms, therefore, while your Shabbat atmosphere is clearly undermined by Alexa’s overzealous responsiveness to an inadvertent instruction, I don’t see grounds for direct intervention by a member of the family. However, if it is practical to do so, you may hint to a non-Jewish neighbour or even passer-by to instruct Alexa on your behalf. You may also be able to just hint to him/her to turn down the volume manually (if this is practical).
The main takeaway from this incident is to emphasize the importance of deactivating the voice recognition feature before Shabbat (and yom tov).
Rabbi Rashi Simon