Thursday, March 8, 2018

Haunted Alexa

I have never been a fan of voice interfaces. For all that they let you talk to your computer like on Star Trek or something, there are all sorts of issues that science fiction never really addresses. Let's say you're using a voice interface to run your phone or your smart glasses or really any other piece of tech in public. I don't know about you, but I'm not even remotely interested in having everybody around me know my business. In a group of people it often is weirdly disruptive, too, because everybody around you is trying to figure out who you're talking to and often get irritated when they realize you're talking to literally nobody in the room. There's a reason that the term "glasshole" was invented not long after the beta release of Google Glass - somebody who sits there and talks incessantly to their smart glasses.

Amazon's Alexa is a similar technology. I suppose it's more private to talk to a home speaker than it is to your glasses or your phone when you're out in public, but the thing still has to pay attention to every single thing you say in order to work. Does anybody really believe Amazon isn't logging all that data and selling it to advertisers so they can harrass you with better targeted ads? The other problem with these "Internet-of-things" systems is that they can be hacked or get viruses. Or maybe even paranormal infestations, which is what brings this story into Augoeides territory. Alexa has apparently been randomly laughing at people - a creepy laugh, not a funny one - and nobody knows why.

As Amazon Echo Dot owner Gavin Hightower was heading to bed the other week, he encountered a disturbing Alexa bug. For no apparent reason, the device uttered a “very loud and creepy laugh.” “There’s a good chance I’m getting murdered tonight,” Hightower tweeted after the incident.

Hightower isn’t alone: Numerous Echo device owners have reported their Alexas laughing spontaneously, unprovoked by their wake word (“Alexa”) or any other command. For other users, it’s more than just laughter. Some report their Alexa devices failing to fulfill their spoken requests, performing random other actions instead, and then capping it off with a guffaw.

Now granted, it's probably a bug or some new virus. It almost certainly isn't "skynet" or any of that intelligent AI nonsense - we're still many years away from making anything like that work, and just for reference about the same number of years away that people were saying we were twenty years ago. It also is true that if you were going to sit down and build a virus that would infect the Alexa network, this would be a pretty funny to do, especially if it only sends out the laughs intermittantly enough that the problem is hard to track down and debug. On the other hand, if you could do something like this by conjuring a spirit, wouldn't that be extra-fun?

Amazon has announced today that they have apparently fixed the problem by updating the software. But what if they really just had a wizard come in and do a big exorcism over their whole data center? Integrating magick with technology is usually fairly difficult, but it also is true that as Internet services become more centralized the number of targets you have to hit to get an effect goes down by a lot. If you can make it work, the applications are endless.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: