San Francisco: Is Alexa laughing at you?
In the past few days, some users of Echo home speakers running Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa voice-based digital assistant have reported hearing strange laughing noises at random. Some people have said the laughter happened in response to unrelated commands, while others reported that it occurred unprompted.
Amazon confirmed on Wednesday that in rare circumstances, the voice assistant can mistakenly hear the phrase “Alexa, laugh,” which under its normal programming would trigger it to chuckle. By late in the day, the company said it had deployed a software update to the speaker that fixed the problem.
“We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’ which is less likely to have false positives, and we are disabling the short utterance ‘Alexa, laugh’,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. The company is also changing the assistant’s response to the prompt from simply laughter to “Sure, I can laugh,” followed by laughter, Amazon said.
Users of smart speakers with Alexa assistant software have comically expressed their fears in recent weeks on Twitter, even posting video snippets of speakers infused with the software laughing menacingly for no apparent reason.
“If Alexa is laughing at you to your face, just imagine what it says about you behind your back,” read a quip posted at Twitter by @mattblaze.
Darker posts wondered playfully whether fears about artificial intelligence turning on humans were coming real.
“Every time Alexa laughs, an angel dies,” entrepreneur and innovator Elon Musk joked in a Twitter exchange on the development.
Tesla co-founder Musk is among high profile figures who have called for vigilance to ensure artificial intelligence doesn’t turn on humans.