Alexa earning her keep at Douglas County Register of Deeds office

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Kent Brown, deputy register of deeds, stands next to the Amazon Echo Show he programmed to answer questions about the Douglas County Register of Deeds office, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

Alexa has extended her reach far beyond reordering laundry detergent and turning off that living room light someone always seems to forget. Now she’s doing a public service.

Kent Brown, Douglas County’s deputy register of deeds, has set up an Amazon Echo Show at the county office. The voice-recognition device can answer 50 questions about the office. That’s short of the 172 Brown was hoping to program, but for now it’s “a good compromise,” he said.

First, Alexa can tell you what the office does.

“The Register of Deeds office records real estate records for permanent archiving,” the device responds. “This provides a centralized database of all deeds, mortgages, subdivisions and much more within the county.”

The folks who work there probably already knew that. However, Brown said that over the last five years recording fees in Kansas have changed annually. Alexa can save a lot of time on calculations.

“If a customer walks in with a 28-page massive document, my employees don’t know what that costs off the top of their heads. I don’t know what that costs. But she does,” Brown said, referring to the nearby screen.

photo by: Kent Brown/Contributed Image

These are some of the 50 questions the Amazon Echo Show at the Douglas County Register of Deeds office can answer.

Alexa will even cite her sources.

“She can reference a few statutes, resolutions and even refer you back to the county website,” Brown said.

Even though the questions Alexa can answer are limited (for now — Brown has been in touch with Amazon to encourage the company to raise the limit), Brown thinks the possibilities are endless.

Right now, only the office’s Alexa can answer the questions — you can’t ask your Alexa at home. But if the county wanted to put the time, energy and funds into the efforts, Alexa could potentially tell you where you can go to vote or how long the line is at the treasurer’s office, for instance.

“If this is successful, I could see Douglas County publishing a public application like that,” Brown said. “I think that would be a tremendous service to the public, but that requires some development, and it’s a matter of devoting staff to that, so that’s a decision that would probably need to come from IT and administration.”

He noted that he was able to set up his office aficionado fairly easily, using an Alexa Skill Blueprint. He chose Alexa over Google Home or Siri because he’s had Echo technology at home for four years now.

“It has changed the way I live my personal life, so I thought there’s no reason this couldn’t be applied to the business setting,” he said.

As for other uses in the county in the near future, Brown said there are no plans, “but there are high hopes.”

“We’ll see what happens in the future,” he said. “I would love to see this pop up in private offices, conference rooms, public spaces.”

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