Amazon's Echo is emitting chilling laughter and refusing to do what is asked of it.
The terrifying behaviour is leading people to lose sleep and to unplug their devices, amid fears their smart speakers are after them.
But the chilling behaviour doesn't demonstrate that the machines are about to take over. In fact, it shows just how far they've got to go.
The strange laugh, terrifying though it would be for anyone to hear it, is really just the result of Alexa mishearing what is being asked of it. The voice assistant can be instructed to laugh on command, and if it hears that command will do so – even if it's not actually what its owner said.
So a number of the people reporting the horrible laughter say it came as they were instructing Alexa to turn off the lights, making it even more worrying since it' slikely to happen as you're lying in bed. But what appears to happen is that the Alexa mishears "lights" for "laugh" – and then does so.
This explanation doesn't solve all the mystery of the laughter, since some people have claimed that they have heard their Echo laughing when nothing has been said to it. But it's possible that in those situations Alexa is hearing something else, and understanding it as laugh.
Amazon appears to believe that this is the reason the strange laugh is coming out. That can be seen in its proposed solution: it will update the Alexa service so that it can only be triggered by asking "Alexa, can you laugh?" and making sure that it will be explicit about why it's laughing before it does so.
But none of that is really any use if it doesn't give you a way to stop Alexa making the creepy laughing sound. And there isn't, apart from trying to make sure that you enunciate in such a way that you won't be heard to be saying "laugh".
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