Voice-activated tools like the Amazon Echo seem great. You can ask them about the weather; you can order an Uber from them, or a pizza. But, on occasion, these systems can seem not quite ready for prime time.
Case in point: this weekend, when an NPR report on Amazon’s Echo device wreaked havoc on devices that were within earshot of the report.
In an update to the story, NPR said:
Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this - let’s just say we both enjoyed the story.
It’s kind of like that 30 Rock episode where Jack pitches a voice-activated TV.
A couple of years ago, a troll on Xbox Live took advantage of the console’s voice-controlled Kinect device by making his username “Xbox Sign Out.” This had the (obvious in retrospect) result of screwing with anyone trying to talk to him during a match.
It looks like NPR figured out how to use the device to their advantage, however. Their story update ended with a new command. “Alexa, listen up,” host Rachel Martin said. “We want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?”