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Smart Speakers: The New Face of Faceless Computing
By
Volume 41, Number 6 - November/December 2017

Sidebar:

Unintended Results

The story of voice-activated computer interface gone wrong goes like this: In January 2017, a Dallas-area 6-year-old chatted with her parents’ Amazon Dot about her love for cookies and for dollhouses. A few days later, a 4-pound tin of cookies and a $160 KidKraft Sparkle Mansion dollhouse were delivered to her home (“6-Year-Old Orders $160 Dollhouse, 4 Pounds of Cookies with Amazon’s Echo Dot,” Jennifer Earl, CBS News, CBS Interactive, Jan. 5, 2017; www.cbsnews.com/news/6-year-old-brooke-neitzel-orders-dollhouse-cookies-with-amazon-echo-dot-alexa). Then, the story continues, a San Diego-area television anchorman reported on her tale, ending his segment by saying, “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’” In response, Amazon Echos in homes across the city with that show playing on TV heard the wake word and lit up in an attempt to mass-order dollhouses. Fortunately, all purchases made over Echo must be confirmed, so no San Diegans were actually stuck with unwanted domiciles for poppets (“Amazon’s Alexa Started Ordering People Dollhouses After Hearing Its Name on TV,” Andrew Liptak, The Verge, Jan. 7, 2017; theverge.com/2017/1/7/14200210/amazon-alexa-tech-news-anchor-order-dollhouse).

The fact-checking website Snopes.com doubts the veracity of the incident. Still, with the aggressive buying power of Amazon behind Echo’s voice-activated façade, it feels like it should be true (“Fact Check: Did Amazon’s Alexa Order Unwanted Dollhouses for a Little Girl and TV Viewers?” Kim LaCapria,Snopes.com, Feb. 7, 2017; snopes.com/alexa-orders-dollhouse-and-cookies).


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Irene E. McDermott is Reference Librarian/Systems Manager at the Crowell Public Library, in the City of San Marino, CA.

 

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