Curious case of Echo’s laughing Alexa


In the Star Trek TOS episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” the crew faces a number of massive issues including a ship-wide computer system with female emotions. Are we starting to see another prophetic Star Trek tech prediction come true?

Tomorrow is Yesterday. A. <p class=. Star Trek TOS. S1E21

For those of us who grew up with TOS in the late 1960’s and 70’s, we could only imagine technology like clam-shell cellphones (a communicator), a smartphone (basically an upgraded tricorder) and an in-house personal assistant that you can address like the on-board computer system.

The thing we didn’t consider is that this would all come at a steep price: privacy. We’d trade our privacy, content, product and conversational habits in exchange.

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But it seems that a consistently open ear may actually be driving the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo — aka Alexa — insane. As you may be aware, these AI systems always seem to be listening. They have to have an ear out for their name, so they’re always scanning for sounds.

A barrage of recent reports reveal that Amazon’s Alexa might be cracking up as the machine randomly giggles. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the Enterprise computer system issues outlined in “Tomorrow it Yesterday” (see video below for the exact scene).

Amazon recently offered a rather tame excuse via the New York Times, saying:

"“In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh,’” when other words are spoken, Amazon said in an emailed statement. “We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’ which is less likely to have false positives, and we are disabling the short utterance ‘Alexa, laugh.’”"

Amazon offers a potential fix for the random laughter. Once you’ve worked in IT, you’ll know that user error is the cause of 99 percent of the world’s problems. However, Amazon doesn’t explain why some folks have experienced Alexa randomly reading off the names of funeral homes and cemeteries!

The video below discusses examples of the funeral home/cemetery phenomenon.

Last time we checked, Earth had not yet made contact with the female-dominated Cygnet XIV,  the group that overhauled the Enterprise’s system.

Do you have one of these products in your house?

Have you experienced any weirdness?

Are you happy to have Star Trek technology these days?