Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices have made news this week for an unexpected reason: the virtual assistant is laughing, sometimes without being prompted at all by users.
As you might expect, Amazon is working on a fix for this odd technical issue, which has been viewed by the general public as everything from merely strange — and maybe a bit amusing — to “creepy,” disturbing, and a sign that the robots will eventually come for us all.
Amazon recently told Buzzfeed News that, “In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh.'” The Buzzfeed report has collected a number of instances in which users have reported hearing the laughter.
— CaptHandlebar (@CaptHandlebar) February 23, 2018
One of the clearest, most shared instances of the laughter can be seen in the tweet above. Twitter user @CaptHandlebar said the JBL Bluetooth speaker seen in the video is paired with Amazon’s Echo Dot.
Amazon went on to tell Buzzfeed that it is changing the “Alexa, laugh” command to “Alexa, can you laugh?” which is apparently less likely to have false positives. “We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘Sure, I can laugh,’ followed by laughter,” Amazon said. The “Alexa, laugh” command is being completely disabled.
Curiously, however, none of these changes would appear to have much of an effect on Alexa-enabled speakers laughing without being prompted in any way at all — the out-of-nowhere laughter sans user command being the creepiest part of this whole saga. But perhaps there is a technical reason that would make the uninvited laughter diminish by way of changing the commands, or it’s possible Amazon is working on the unprompted laughter as a related, but separate issue.
It’s clear that some kinks have to be worked out. Even though Amazon’s devices — and similar products from competitors — have made a lot of headway into our homes, always-listening voice assistant technology is still somewhat young, in the grand scheme of things.
Our question is this: why does Alexa need to laugh at all?