Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, isn’t designed to put human lives at risk, but that’s exactly what she did this weekend when she told a 10-year-old girl to touch a live electrical outlet with a penny.
The suggestion came through an Echo smart speaker after the girl asked Alexa for a “challenge.”
âPlug a phone charger halfway into a wall outlet, then tap a dime on the exposed pins,â Alexa said.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday that the error had been corrected.
Kristin Livdahl, the mother of the girl who is believed to be living in the United States, described the incident in a tweet on Sunday, which included a screenshot of the event as it appeared in the Alexa smartphone app.
âWe were doing physical challenges, like lying down and turning around with a shoe on our feet, [physical education] professor on YouTube earlier, “Livdahl wrote in another tweet.” Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one. “
It was then that Alexa suggested to the young girl to try the challenge which she had “found on the web”. Alexa took on the challenge of an online news post called Our Community Now. The news site did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC, and it was unclear how it initially reported on the reckless challenge.
âI was there when it happened and we had another great conversation about not trusting anything from the internet or Alexa,â the mother said.
The potentially deadly challenge, which Alexa apparently failed to control, started showing up on social media platforms, including TikTok about a year ago. It is dangerous because metals conduct electricity and inserting metal parts into an outlet can cause severe electric shocks and fires, some reports of people losing fingers and hands after completing the challenge.
âAlexa is designed to deliver precise, relevant and useful information to customers,â the Amazon spokesperson told CNBC. “As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to correct it.”
Amazon did not immediately say what “fast action” was.
Artificial intelligence expert Gary Marcus said on Twitter on Wednesday that the event shows how AI systems still lack common sense.
âNo current AI comes close to understanding the everyday physical or psychological world,â Marcus later told CNBC via Twitter. âWhat we have now is an approximation of intelligence, not the real thing, and as such, it will never be truly trustworthy. We will need some fundamental advancements – not just more data – before to be able to access the AI ââthat we can trust. “