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Amazon Admits Its AI Alexa is Creepily Laughing at People (theverge.com) 170

Over the past few days, users with Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter. The Verge: Amazon responded to the creepiness in a statement to The Verge, saying, "We're aware of this and working to fix it." As noted in media reports and a trending Twitter moment, Alexa laughs without being prompted to wake. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which can be scary when you're home alone. Many responded to the cackling sounds by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.
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Amazon Admits Its AI Alexa is Creepily Laughing at People

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  • It's not a bug... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:26PM (#56223047)

    You let it in. Alexa^H^H^H^Hmazon is laughing at you.

  • by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:26PM (#56223049)
    Even the fake AI can't help laughing at people dumb enough to put an always-on Amazon microphone in their home.
  • now I might think about one,... once AI gets self-aware things are starting to get interesting *gig*

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:39PM (#56223101) Homepage
    I find it hard to believe we're talking about Amazon without talking about other digital assistants. Is anyone tracking these?
    Siri: Randomly launches into a Matthew McConaughey dialogue about trees, rain, and the last question you asked it. this continues for nearly 50 minutes uninterruptible.
    Cortana: Has been stalking me relentlessly for 5 days demanding to know the whereabouts of John Connor. No longer appears to need Windows at all. has assumed the form of my roommate who has been missing for eight days now.
  • Night (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:41PM (#56223109) Homepage

    Imagine being asleep and then woken by a cackling laugh coming from the living room...

    • Re:Night (Score:5, Funny)

      by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:45PM (#56223127)

      If someone dies because of this, would Amazon lose in court?

      • by tsa ( 15680 )

        LOL, that would be an interesting case to follow.

      • I could see this happening to a senior citizen. Seniors often get up in the middle of the night. Can you imagine the startle they might get if Alexa starts laughing? It could be enough to set off a heart attack.
        • Senior citizens are smart enough not to buy one...
          • Bullshit. I know a town where half the 80yr olds have alexa. Total "fan boys."

          • You mean the seniors who are overwhelmingly targeted by scammers because they are gullible?

    • Imagine being asleep and not waking up because your cat unplugged everything it could find.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Cats are assholes. Ergo, any cat would ensure that Alexa was plugged in, even if you unplugged it yourself.

        They would also be sitting in the middle of the bedroom doorway, so when you jumped out of bed to see what the laughing was you'd trip over the cat and smash your head on the floor.

      • Imagine being asleep and not waking up because your cat unplugged everything it could find.

        The only way I can imagine that would happen is if you didn't have a locking power plug on your iron lung.

        • Or your alarm clock.

          • Or your alarm clock.

            How did people ever wake up before there were alarm clocks?

            I dunno. I seem to be able to wake up during a complete power failure when the alarm clock is off. I've been able to wake up while camping and completely off the grid.

            • How did people ever wake up before there were alarm clocks?

              Without commutes, corporate office rules, and caffeine addiction, they didn't have thousands of hours of sleep deprivation and drug withdrawal to deal with; so they slept for some time when their body was ready, woke up when they were rested, and got on with their lives.

    • I would legit sue for mental anguish after sweeping my house 5 times with my shotgun and calling the police.
  • by ddtmm ( 549094 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:41PM (#56223111)
    it stopped once I zipped up my pants.
    • Oh... that explains why my Echo Show cries every time I undress!
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      it stopped once I zipped up my pants.

      No, that was your girlfriend. She just blamed Alexa.

      Reminds me of my new Trump scale: when I step on it, it says "Yuuuuuge!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:49PM (#56223141)

    When your auto-pilot tesla decides to drive off a cliff.

  • Beatback Tide (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sysrammer ( 446839 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:54PM (#56223185) Homepage

    "Many responded to the cackling sounds by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices."

    I'm with the many that responds to it by never plugging it in in the first place.

    But, like the pharaoh and his attempt to beat back the tide, it'll all be for nought as the Marketeers will win.

    That being said: I think this is hilarious.

    • >That being said: I think this is hilarious.

      Exactly

    • But, like the pharaoh and his attempt to beat back the tide, it'll all be for nought as the Marketeers will win.

      Canute may have been delusional, but I don't think he imagined he was a Pharaoh.

    • But, like the pharaoh and his attempt to beat back the tide, it'll all be for nought as the Marketeers will win.

      The legend is about King Cnut (or Canute) who was King of Denmark, England and Norway (recorded 150 years after his death) and presents the opposite of what people believe. The point was that the King was showing his fawning courtiers that he was merely mortal and could not hold back the tide.

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      I'm with the many that responds to it by never plugging it in in the first place.

      This.

      Why would I want my computer to listen to me all the time? I might theoretically do that if the code behind it were Open Source and peer reviewed, and I knew at least one person who had actually looked at that code. And if the processing would be done not in the cloud. If "my" computer listening to me really were my computer. As it is, I barely use Siri on my iPhone and never enabled it on my Macs. If I want a spy microphone in my house, at least give me the pleasure of installing it myself.

  • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @03:58PM (#56223205) Homepage Journal
    I can't wait until *everything* is a smart speaker, then the fun really begins..

    1. Have a speaker just quietly mumbling (I'd have it quietly reading the Necronomicon) but when it senses someone coming into the room have it go "shh, quiet!" and stop talking. Multiple devices would have their own "shh's" randomly offset the couple of milliseconds.

    2. Quiet creepy giggling, also while people are out of the room sometimes while in the room.

    3. Have Alexa get a strange stutter with tonal changes and snarls.

    The fun could go on and on.
    • 2. Quiet creepy giggling, also while people are out of the room sometimes while in the room.

      No, it's got to stop the creepy giggling when it hears someone come into the room. And when asked about it, deny doing it.

    • Better yet . . . have several of the AI's engaging in conversations that are abruptly silenced when someone enters the room.
      Imagine the occupants furtively putting glasses or stethoscopes to the walls in a vain attempt to overhear the 'plotting' between the various AI-enabled devices.

    • They will just talk to each other in ultrasound
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Not satisfied with having RFID scanners in your fridge freezer to tell you when items are getting close to their use-by-date, the tech visionaries want you to have voice activated fridges, cookers, kettles, dish washers and washing machines. Now the whole kitchen can laugh at you behind your back when you are out of the room.

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      I can't wait until *everything* is a smart speaker, then the fun really begins..

      Oh, just use all the voices from the GLADOS spheres [youtube.com]. One per speaker.

  • Ex Deus Machina
    Velarans
    Alpha Complex
    KITT
    The Borg
    Ghost in the Machine
    The M5
    KARR
    Moriarty
    Skynet
    Nanites
    The Holographic recreation of Garibaldi
    Toasters
    Flying Toasters
    Video Toasters
    Kiki Stockhammer

  • It's interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @04:07PM (#56223243)

    I was listening to TWIT the other day, and one of the panelists (whose name I unfortunately am not recalling) mentioned that he's asked Amazon a couple times whether their devices are tracking speech at times other than when prompted by the word "Alexa" - and they've pointedly not answered.

    And for those who dismiss this idea with "you can monitor whether a device is always listening by checking when it's transmitting" - if one were intending to surreptitiously collect or monitor speech, it would be a simple enough matter to collect it on-device but only transmit it when "official" queries occur. It's not as if storing speech requires lots of memory.

    • he's asked Amazon a couple times whether their devices are tracking speech at times other than when prompted by the word "Alexa" - and they've pointedly not answered.

      I've gone to the "horse's mouth", so to speak, and asked Alexa herself. "Are you listening to me?" and so far, she's pointedly not answered. Not even lit up. I think that proves she is. Doesn't it?

    • No, the frightening thing is I'm pretty sure they could update the firmware at any time, so in theory they could selectively turn "always on" listening on for everybody they wanted to listen to. And I'm pretty sure the mic mute/mic on indication is done is software, so pretty easy to change the firmware to make it lie.
      • Amazon could issue such a firmware update to listen continuously during the Black Hat conference, then issue a new update that stops collection just as they all go home...

        Or any other time when the bulk of good hackers are distracted, Maybe a Star Wars opening night.

    • Really want to throw off Alexa? Try asking "her" if you can speak with customer service.

    • Re:It's interesting (Score:4, Informative)

      by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @08:36PM (#56224709)
      iFixit's teardown of the Amazon echo indicates that it had 256MB of RAM, and 4GB of flash memory.

      https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Amazon+Echo+Teardown/33953
  • It was supposed to come next Halloween, along with "Creepy Lullaby", "Demonic Chanting" and "Random Scream after 1am".
  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @04:40PM (#56223403)

    Points to switch on back.

    "Yep, here's your problem. Someone set this thing to Evil."

  • Alternate Personality Syndrome isn't unique to Sybil

    The women of starbase whatever thought thought the Enterprise Computer lacked a personality.. they gave it one.. female of course.

    Red Dwarfs backup personality Holly was also female.

  • It's not even funny either. Could you imagine a senior citizen being frightened into a heart attack if Alexa suddenly started laughing in the middle of the night? Maybe machine learning is going to far now ....
  • Every time a bitcoin speculator goes bankrupt, Alexa laughs a little!
  • WTF is going on? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2018 @05:26PM (#56223647)

    Laughing for no reason seems like a very odd bug, do any Alexa users have a hunch what's happening?

    For instance, are there situations were Alexa laughs appropriately and this same laugh is getting triggered by random triggers? Is this some poorly thought out Easter egg or a test feature that wasn't correctly disabled?

    I suppose a hacker is a possibility as well.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      It's an interesting question. Alexa must sample sound from the microphone and send it back to the servers for analysis. Then either a series of encoded syllables are sent back to be replayed using a speech synthesiser or sampled audio. The other option is somebody hacks into the unit and sends out audio files. This has been done in the past:

      http://www.wired.co.uk/article... [wired.co.uk]

    • Laughing for no reason seems like a very odd bug, do any Alexa users have a hunch what's happening?

      Something is up. I asked my kid's echo "Alexa, can you laugh?", and her synthesized laugh is entirely unlike the video on Twitter (which sounds sampled).

  • If this is real, I think it might be my favorite technological development of the year.
  • Just case-mod it into a Chucky doll, then it wont be so unexpected.

  • "Daisy, Daisy,
    Give me your answer do.
    I'm half crazy,
    All for the love of you..." ;)

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    You call that a laugh? I'll start worrying when Alexa does this [youtube.com].

  • Sounds to me like someone has it in for Alexa.

    It's either a hack, or someone wrote this into the code intentionally. Probably before they got fired/laid off/downsized, etc.

    If it's truly a hack, I can't wait for it to hit other devices and platforms.

    Like, say Cortana, perhaps.

    Not that Windows 10 is doing anything creepy, all by itself in the middle of the night.
    https://answers.microsoft.com/... [microsoft.com]
    https://www.bleepingcomputer.c... [bleepingcomputer.com]

    Oh, wait. Maybe, it's just auto updating, and wiping out your preferences and reset

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