With how advanced she’s becoming, it’s easy to forget sometimes that’s Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant isn’t as smart as we give her credit for. Smart assistants can only parse certain kinds of language, and can’t always pick up on subtle quirks or eccentricities. Or, in the case of the Alexa on one family’s Amazon Echo, she may occasionally have bouts of sociopathy. Either or.
Twitter user Kristin Livdahl was engaging in a variety of “challenges” with her 10-year-old daughter as a way of having fun on a rainy day. “We were doing some physical challenges, like laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a [physical education] teacher on YouTube earlier,” she explained on her Twitter.
When Livdahl’s daughter wanted another challenge, she asked the household Alexa to provide one. Alexa found one online, and reported it thusly: “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”
Obviously, this is an incredibly bad and dangerous idea, almost guaranteed to result in electrocution, fires, household damage, or all three. When the child asked for a challenge, Alexa uncovered records of “the penny challenge,” an extremely dangerous challenge that had been circulating on social media last year, only parsing the word “challenge” from the child’s request.
Alexa ‘error’ fixed after girl told to stick penny in socket for a ‘challenge’ https://t.co/IyAeKhFdMp pic.twitter.com/268lgQToYV
— CTV News (@CTVNews) December 28, 2021
Livdahl quickly intervened, shutting the Echo down and stressing to her daughter not to do that, who she says quickly got the message. In response to Livdahl’s story, Amazon announced that they had already released an Echo patch to ensure Alexa doesn’t recommend dangerous social media “challenges” anymore.
“Customer trust is at the centre of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers,” Amazon told the BBC in a statement.
“As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it.”