In something that sounds more like it belongs in a “Terminator” movie than real life, a tragedy was averted when a home Alexia device “told” a 10-year girl to attempt a deadly “challenge.”
If not for the presence of her mother, the young girl could have been electrocuted when the pre-teen innocently asked the home’s Amazon Alexa assistant for “a challenge to do.”
The algorithm-driven AI device responded with, “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”
Kristin Livdahl, the girl’s mother, described the incident in a tweet which included a screenshot of the event as it appeared in the Alexa smartphone app.
“We were doing some physical challenges, like laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a [physical education] teacher on YouTube earlier,” Livdahl wrote in another tweet. “Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one.”
It was then that Alexa suggested the girl attempt the challenge that it had “found on the web.” Alexa pulled the challenge from an online news publication called Our Community Now.
“I was right there when it happened, and we had another good conversation about not trusting anything from the internet or Alexa,” the mother said.
An Amazon spokesperson told the press that the error has since been fixed. Well, isn’t that comforting?
The potentially lethal challenge, which Alexa seemingly failed to vet, started appearing on social media platforms, including TikTok, around a year ago. It’s dangerous because metals conduct electricity, and inserting metal coins into a plug socket can result in violent electric shocks and fires, with some reports of people losing fingers and hands from taking the challenge.
Apparently, the Article on the Our Community Now website was actually about the dangers of such social media challenges, and it was a trending article, so Alexa picked up on that and said, “here is what I found on challenges.”
“Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers,” the Amazon spokesperson told the press. “As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it.”
However, Amazon has still not elaborated on what the “swift action” was.
Artificial intelligence expert Gary Marcus said on Twitter that the event shows how AI systems still lack common sense.
“No current AI is remotely close to understanding the everyday physical or psychological world,” Marcus tweeted. “What we have now is an approximation to intelligence, not the real thing, and as such, it will never really be trustworthy. We are going to need some fundamental advances — not just more data — before we can get to AI we can trust.”
There is an old adage that says, “be careful what you wish for.” In the techno-world of Alexa and Siri, maybe that needs to be modified to “be careful what you ask for.”