Social Media Buzz

'We're doomed': Amazon's Alexa is spooking users with its random laugh – amusing Twitter no end

The popular and best-selling digital personal assistant is scaring its customers by producing sounds of laughter without warning or reason.

Alexa, the digital personal assistant, developed by Amazon, has reportedly developed an unusual habit. Over the past few days, several users of Alexa-enabled devices complained on social media that their gadgets would voluntarily produce sounds of laughing without being prompted or asked.

Alexa interacts with voice commands from its owners, and can play music, read audiobooks, stream podcasts, provide information and news in real time, as and when asked to do so by its owner. To activate an Alexa-enabled device, a user would need to say the “wake word”, to which the device would respond.

Hence, the unprompted laughing from certain Alexa-enabled devices, without the use of a “wake word”, across the globe has scared and startled their customers.

“Having an office conversation about pretty confidential stuff and Alexa just laughed. Anybody else ever have that? It didn’t chime as if we had accidentally trigerred her to wake. She simply just laughed. It was real creepy,” David Woodland, user of an Alexa-enabled device, tweeted.

One Reddit user reported Alexa producing a “chilling, witch-like laugh”, while another called the laugh “evil” and that it resembled a real person laughing. Here are some of the strangest instances of Alexa laughs as reported by Twitter users. Some even recorded their Alexa devices laughing.

Amazon soon acknowledged the problem, and in a statement to The Verge, said that the company is “aware of this and working to fix it”. The company said that one of its planned fixes is that it would disable the command, “Alexa, laugh”, and change it to “Alexa, can you laugh?”. According to the company, the new command has less chance to bring about “false positives” i.e cases where the Alexa software is likely to consider certain words and phrases as ones that would make it produce the sound of laughter.

Meanwhile, Twitter users cannot help but find these reports of Alexa’s uncalled-for laughter funny. Here is a sampling.

One user edited footage featuring an Alexa device to the controversial laughter of an opposition minister in the Rajya Sabha that rankled members of the ruling party in February.

Some Twitter users have found parallels to a digital software producing laughing sounds without being asked to with movies and television series where artificial intelligence-driven machines are the cause of mayhem and destruction, such as the Terminator films, Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which featured the malevolent supercomputer HAL 9000, and the dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror. The web streaming platform Netflix which has produced the last two seasons of Black Mirror has itself joined the bandwagon.

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A special shade of blue inspired these musicians to create a musical piece

Thanks to an interesting neurological condition called synesthesia.

On certain forums on the Internet, heated discussions revolve around the colour of number 9 or the sound of strawberry cupcake. And most forum members mount a passionate defence of their points of view on these topics. These posts provide insight into a lesser known, but well-documented, sensory condition called synesthesia - simply described as the cross wiring of the senses.

Synesthetes can ‘see’ music, ‘taste’ paintings, ‘hear’ emotions...and experience other sensory combinations based on their type. If this seems confusing, just pay some attention to our everyday language. It’s riddled with synesthesia-like metaphors - ‘to go green with envy’, ‘to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth’, ‘loud colours’, ‘sweet smells’ and so on.

Synesthesia is a deeply individual experience for those who have it and differs from person to person. About 80 different types of synesthesia have been discovered so far. Some synesthetes even have multiple types, making their inner experience far richer than most can imagine.

Most synesthetes vehemently maintain that they don’t consider their synesthesia to be problem that needs to be fixed. Indeed, synesthesia isn’t classified as a disorder, but only a neurological condition - one that scientists say may even confer cognitive benefits, chief among them being a heightened sense of creativity.

Pop culture has celebrated synesthetic minds for centuries. Synesthetic musicians, writers, artists and even scientists have produced a body of work that still inspires. Indeed, synesthetes often gravitate towards the arts. Eduardo is a Canadian violinist who has synesthesia. He’s, in fact, so obsessed with it that he even went on to do a doctoral thesis on the subject. Eduardo has also authored a children’s book meant to encourage latent creativity, and synesthesia, in children.

Litsa, a British violinist, sees splashes of paint when she hears music. For her, the note G is green; she can’t separate the two. She considers synesthesia to be a fundamental part of her vocation. Samara echoes the sentiment. A talented cellist from London, Samara can’t quite quantify the effect of synesthesia on her music, for she has never known a life without it. Like most synesthetes, the discovery of synesthesia for Samara was really the realisation that other people didn’t experience the world the way she did.

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You can watch Eduardo, Litsa and Samara play the entire Sound of NEXA Blue composition in the video below.


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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.