Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant built into Echo devices, had a bit of a laugh recently, sparking concerns among users.
Why would anyone fear cute, little Alexa? Well, because there is this theory that the AI uprising is near and that they’re going to take over the world. So, it’s really no surprise that when people heard Amazon’s Alexa laughing out of the blue, they thought the end is nigh.
Amazon was quite quick to fix this, admitting they had heard of the problem and were working on an update. According to the company’s statement, the device can mistakenly hear the command “Alexa, laugh.” Thus, they decided to change the phrase to “Alexa, can you laugh?” which is less likely to spark mistakes. Alexa will also use a different phrasing when answering like “Sure, I can laugh” before going laughing.
Now, while this is all cute and all, there’s no explanation as to why the device would mistakenly hear “Alexa, laugh” when no one was telling it to do anything of the sort. Quite likely, it’s just a bug in the code, since AI singularity is still very far off, and there’s no plausible explanation.
Robophobia is something that many people deal with. This is an irrational fear or robots, drones, artificial intelligence, and robot-like mechanics. This explains, in part, why every time news like this one about Alexa hits, it goes viral. If you’ll check online, you’ll notice a lot of panicked comments.
Alexa’s other problems
It also doesn’t help that this isn’t the first time that a personal assistant, be it Alexa, or Google Home went rogue. A while back, there were reports that Alexa called the cops on someone who was being violent against their partner although no one had told her to do that. It later became apparent that wasn’t the case because the device can’t actually do that (nor can Google Home, for that matter). But there are other instances when the two devices have acted weird. Burger King, for instance, made an ad that could trigger Google Home to tell the owner what was in a Whooper burger. Or others when put face to face, Alexa and Google Home could trigger each other into an odd conversation.
What it all boils down to is that when these devices do something out of the ordinary, it makes users uneasy. As useful as home assistants are, most will probably ditch them quickly if they suddenly became autonomous. Again, that’s far from becoming a reality, but the fear is palpable. The thing we should probably be concerned about here is our privacy. Since these devices are “always on,” waiting for the code words, they can pick up various bits of conversation. Google Home and Alexa both pass all the requests through the cloud as there’s no on-device processing possible. This means that your secrets are not as safe as you might think.