Amazon said it is working on fixing the issue, and will likely change Alexa’s responses to commands. But, for now, users are scared!
In a weird turn of events, Amazon’s AI-powered virtual assistant Alexa has been laughing out of Echo devices. Several users have complained that Alexa is laughing creepily without a prompt. Sometimes, it can be heard laughing when assigned a task that has no relation to laughter.
The first such instance was reported by a Twitter user late last month. Amazon has confirmed that it is aware of the issue and is “working to fix” it.
Some have also revealed that Alexa is refusing to obey prompts. One user observed that Alexa meted out an evil laughter when he asked it to switch off the lights of his room.
Amazon said that it is working on changing Alexa’s response to commands.
In a statement to Buzzfeed News, Amazon explained, “In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh.’ 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.’ We are also changing Alexa's response from simply laughter to ‘sure, I can laugh’ followed by laughter.”
However, for now, Echo owners are scared, and it is not only because of the evil laughter. Some users have revealed that Alexa randomly started listing names of funeral homes and cemeteries. This has not only caused people to lose sleep but also led them to call Alexa “stupid”.
AI, too smart?
Alexa’s sudden oddity adds fuel to the fire surrounding the march of AI and the potential risks it poses to humankind. A section of the tech world firmly believes that AI will eventually overpower humans, and virtual assistants will disobey human orders.
Last week, Tesla founder Elon Musk called out Harvard Professor Steven Pinker for dismissing the threat of AI. Pinker had criticised Musk for his fatalistic statements about AI. He said, “If Elon Musk was really serious about the AI threat, he’d stop building those self-driving cars, which are the first kind of advanced AI that we're going to see.”
Musk tore into his comments saying “humanity is in deep trouble” if someone as accomplished as Pinker didn’t “understand the difference between functional/narrow AI (eg. car) and general AI, when the latter *literally* has a million times more compute power and an open-ended utility function”.
Prior to this too, Musk has issued warnings about AI, even going to the extent of suggesting that it can lead to World War III as countries with “strong computer science” capabilities will get involved in an “AI superiority” race. He’s even termed AI a greater risk than North Korea.
He said at a public event last year, “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not — they were harmful to a set of individuals within society, of course, but they were not harmful to society as a whole.”
We’re waiting for Jeff Bezos’s take on this though!