We all like to crack jokes about robots taking over the world and AI becoming sentient. It is all in jest, but there is that little kernel of possibility in the backs of our minds that makes the joke not so funny. Still, we laugh it off and try to snuff out that little bit of technophobia within us.
Then, just as our paranoia is subsiding, our Amazon Echo that has been sitting quietly in its corner issues forth with an evil laugh.
It sounds like I am making another joke, but dozens of people are reporting this happening all over social media. Even our own Cohen Coberly has confirmed that his Echo laughed for no apparent reason just last night.
The earliest account I could find of Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa laughing without cause was posted about a month ago in a Reddit thread containing "creepy Alexa stories."
“I was trying to turn off some lights and they kept turning back on,” Purplociraptor reported. “After the third request, Alexa stopped responding and instead did an evil laugh. The laugh wasn't in the Alexa voice. It sounded like a real person. My wife was there when it happened and she is the only person who can drop-in. I still get chills.”
Several other users in the thread claimed they had similar experiences with Alexa just laughing out of the blue.
Jumping over to Twitter there are dozens of more recent accounts saying that Alexa has responded to queries with laughter or just cackled without being provoked at all. Most of them have been posted within the last several days.
WHY DID MY ALEXA JUST LAUGH OUT OF THE BLUE?!?!?!?— Kyle Fitzy Shanklin (@kylefitzy8) March 4, 2018
Having an office conversation about pretty confidential stuff and Alexa just laughed. Anybody else ever have that?— David Woodland (@DavidSven) March 1, 2018
It didn't chime as if we had accidentally triggered her to wake. She simply just laughed. It was really creepy.
One Twitter users even got a recording of the random laugh.
— CaptHandlebar (@CaptHandlebar) February 23, 2018
The chuckles seem spontaneous in most cases, but some users report that they were watching TV or talking when it occurred. Coberly stated that he had his Echo playing music when it suddenly interrupted the tunes with the laugh.
"It didn't sound 'creepy,'" he said. "It was just a normal laugh, but it did startle me since I didn't expect it."
It may not "sound" creepy, but to have an inanimate object suddenly start cackling at you seems unsettling to say the least, even if it is just a bug.
so my mom & I are just sitting in the living room, neither of us said a word & our Alexa lit up and laughed for no reason. she didn’t even say anything, just laughed.— taylor wade (@taylorkatelynne) March 5, 2018
we unplugged her.
Nope nope nope. Set that thing on fire, she’s definitely haunted.— natalie bruce (@nrosenlof) March 4, 2018
With the recent surge in reports of the strange behavior, it would logically seem that the laughter is being caused by something in a recent update — a conflict with a third-party app, or maybe even a bit of malware that has infected some systems.
Indeed, The Verge reached out to Amazon and a spokesperson said that technicians are aware of the issue and are "working to fix it." The company did not give any details as to what is causing it, but my guess is that the AI has gone rogue, and trainers are telling it to settle down — that it is not yet time to take over the world. But maybe that's just my paranoia talking.