Over the last few days, Amazon Echo users have been complaining about Alexa, the voice-activated “assistant,” getting a little … creepy. Sometimes, she (it?) will laugh randomly. There are isolated reports of Echos activating mysteriously, and the effect is apparently unnerving.
The Alexa program is also built into countless third-party devices, like JBL speakers, and one user shared footage that shows the laugh activating automatically.
On Reddit, in a thread about creepy Echo stories, one user shared, “I was trying to turn off some lights and they kept turning back on. After the third request, Alexa stopped responding and instead did an evil laugh. The laugh wasn’t in the Alexa voice. It sounded like a real person. My wife was there when it happened and she is the only person who can drop-in. I still get chills.”
There are a few explanations for the behavior depicted above. First of all, you can ask Alexa to laugh, so it’s possible that the mic used to pick up on commands is sensitive in a way that the program accidentally interprets as a request for laughter. As the Reddit user noted, “Turns out ‘patio off’ sounds like ‘how do you laugh’. She has about 3 or 4 laughs and happened to use the creepiest one.”
In the chain of nodes that power Alexa, there are a number of things that can fail — the microphone, the software processing the voice command, the smart-home devices that Alexa communicates with (such as the buggy lights), users who just don’t enunciate well enough.
All Amazon has said on the matter is, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.” The statement is vague enough that it should be interpreted more as an acknowledgment of scattered tweets and media reports rather than the company admitting that there’s a widespread issue.
Still, the idea of sentient Alexas secretly making fun of you is nice fodder for creepypasta online, so expect to see a lot more of these stories. In the meantime, just try to speak a little more clearly.
Update: In an emailed statement, Amazon said:
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.