How intelligent is the Amazon Tap when it comes…

Within one morning of playing around with a new Amazon Tap device, my 8-year-old daughter resorted to the scatological. To which the artificially-intelligent Alexa software responded, “Sorry, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard,”  like an unflappable librarian with no sense of humor.

Alexa is smart enough not to go there. Thank goodness. And within a few days,’s latest personal assistant appeared to be learning.

My daughter figured out how to use her voice to get Alexa to play music, define words and get it to meow. No more poop jokes.

Perhaps, it was the user who was learning how to ask Alexa better questions?

To experiment further, I took the Tap, which is the younger sibling of Amazon’s Echo, to the fifth-grade computer class at Heritage Elementary in Highlands Ranch. The gracious Melissa Daniels welcomed me and a video crew to her classroom to explore a different question: Is the Amazon Tap a good homework tool?

Amazon Tap is a portable Bluetooth speaker with amazing sound quality and only a few buttons. Tap the microphone button to wake her up, which is unlike the original Echo that is always listening for a cue word: Alexa. The $130 device includes a charging base. Tap uses a mobile app during set up to link Alexa to internet — that’s where her brains are. On the app, one can also see everything Alexa is responding to, from updating you with the weather to answers for questions asked.

Vince Chandler, The Denver Post

Denver Post technology reporter Tamara Chuang poses with the fifth grade computer class at Heritage Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. The kids spent their class period asking the new Amazon Tap’s AI Alexa Voice Service questions, some in an attempt to help with homework and others tried to stump the machine on August 24, 2016.

And the students loved asking questions, even if Alexa only seemed to answer half of them. She didn’t respond well to matters of opinion — “Who is the most popular artist in the world?” or “Who is the most funniest man in the world?” or “What is the most favorited pop song in the U.S.?”

“Sorry I couldn’t find the answer to your question.”

But other questions that seemed straightforward, she inexplicably responded the same way: “In math what is pi?”

“Sorry I couldn’t find the answer to your question.”

“Stumped!” shrieked the students.

With some teacher prompting, students refined questions.

“How cold is liquid nitrogen,” asked one student. “Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question,” Alexa replied.

The student tried again. “What is the temperature of liquid nitrogen?” To that, Alexa responded, “Liquid nitrogen has a boiling point of -322 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Or, “How much money does a pilot earn a day?” “Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.”

Asked again, “What is a pilot salary?” Alexa responded, “It depends where you live. A pilot typically earns $70,608.”

According to Amazon, Alexa does learn: “Alexa is developed to get better over time. Alexa uses your voice recordings and other information, including from third-party services, to answer your questions, fulfill your requests, and improve your experience and our services.”

Watching her responses on the mobile app, a user can indicate with a yes or no whether Alexa did what you asked — and continue the training of this digital assistant.

And there’s still a lot to learn for new owners. A number of sites, like CNET, track phrases and commands Alexa responds to. A Reddit thread is dedicated to Alexa Easter eggs.

Now just over a week old, my Amazon Tap is still young. And apparently still learning. But even with Alexa’s dismal homework-answering track record, the students’ response to “Is Alexa a good homework buddy?” was a resounding “Yes!”