Amazon Echo Lost in Translation

My parents bought me an Amazon Echo last Christmas and while I am not a fan of the cloud, I sort of had to set it up. Truth be told I did put it on my wish list as I wanted to play around with one, but didn’t think I would really use it outside of curiosity. Since then it has grown on me and I actually bought a couple more even though the whole “always on, always listening, cloud connected” bit still gets to me.

While I have an Echo in the kitchen, (the timers and grocery list abilities are used quite a bit along with now playing music and home automation), a fairly open floor plan means it can hear pretty much anywhere on the ground floor. This can cause strange things to happen when someone is watching TV or a movie in the living room.

Of course the biggest issue is when someone on the show says the wake work “Alexa”. We were recently watching a recorded episode of the Tonight Show and Fallon was showing off some new Echo integration they had. This caused my Echo to load the Tonight Show “skill” and start playing a monologue.

But sometimes it “wakes up” even if someone says something that—to me at least—sounds nothing like “Alexa”.

It’s a bit weird when you’re watching something and all of a sudden you hear this voice from the kitchen saying “sorry I don’t know how to do that”. (It is an especially weird and a jump-worthy moment if you’re watching an emotionally intense sequence.)

Tonight I was watching a TV show where one character made some disparaging remarks about another when all of a sudden I heard that disembodied voice from the kitchen say, “well thanks for the feedback”. Uh, no one said anything that sounded like “Alexa” before that. But now deep in the depths of Amazon’s (probably elephant-like) cloud memory is a (mistaken!) record of the Echo hearing lewd remarks made toward it from my house.

That, I fear, does not bode well for me when the machines take over. Perhaps if Google machines take over first I’d either get a clean slate or, if they pillage their competitor’s data stores before crushing them, our house may get bonus points for cutting down an Amazon device. We’ll see.

Since one can pull up the history of things recorded by the Echo, I took a look to see what it heard. It’s vulgar and at the same time hilariously wrong, (except for the first two words—yes, a TV show, but from late night cable). From the app: “F**k [sic] you you little dicky six on ship”.

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