Like our kids, Alexa has an answer for everything. She can tell you the daily weather, update you on current events, play music, set alarms, make to-do lists, go shopping, search the internet for answers to all your burning questions, and more.
Unlike our kids, Alexa actually listens to us, so you know, bonus points for that.
And kids love her too. She tells jokes, moos like a cow, raps, does animal workouts, and even knows the muffin man.
Yup, she’s all fun and games…until she tells your 10-year-old to stick a penny on a live electrical socket plug.
Shocking, I know.
According to a now-viral tweet posted by Kristin Livdahl, Alexa told her 10-year-old daughter to touch a penny to an exposed electrical plug.
She captioned her post with:
“OMFG My 10 year old just asked Alexa on our Echo for a challenge and this is what she said”
Livdahl shared a screenshot of the transcript of Alexa’s response:
“Here’s something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow.com: The challenge is simple: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”
Alexa then set a timer for 20 minutes.
Apparently, Alexa found the challenge on the world wide web and decided, in all her worldly AI wisdom, that it would make for a great activity.
Ironically, the article posted on the ‘Our Community Now’ website that Alexa pulled the challenge from was warning parents about the dangerous “outlet challenge” going viral on TikTok in 2020.
— NH State Fire Marshal's Office (NHFMO) (@nhfmo) January 22, 2020
Had Alexa been human and bothered to read further, she would have discovered that the prank is a VERY bad idea. It can cause potentially lethal electrical shocks and is an extreme fire hazard.
The article warns:
“Basically, if you see your kids hovering near a wall outlet with a penny in hand, put a stop to the prank.”
Which, thankfully, is exactly what Livdahl did. She explains in another tweet that she was right there and yelled, “No, Alexa, no!” She also says that her daughter is too smart to go ahead with the “Penny Challenge” anyway.
I was right there and yelled, No, Alexa, no!” like it was a dog. My daughter says she is too smart to do something like that anyway.
— Kristin Livdahl (@klivdahl) December 27, 2021
Livdahl further explains why her daughter asked Alexa to “tell me a challenge to do” in the first place.
She tweets that she and her daughter had been doing some physical challenges from a Phys Ed teacher on Youtube and just wanted something different.
Amazon definitely delivered (and not in a good way).
We have been doing some physical challenges from a Phy Ed teacher on YouTube as the weather gets colder and she just wanted another one. I was right there. The Echo was a gift and is mostly used as a timer and to play songs and podcasts.
— Kristin Livdahl (@klivdahl) December 27, 2021
And while Alexa may have gotten it wrong, Amazon is making it right.
“Amazon Help” responded to Livdahl’s original tweet, albeit with a generic response, saying:
We hope this helps. -Daragh”
To which one tweeter cheekily responded:
You have to disable the “kill my child” setting ?
— anticarceral meme praxis (@st4reintoabyss) December 27, 2021
It seems that Amazon did just that (although they’re not using those exact words.)
Amazon told the BBC in a statement that it had taken “swift action” to fix the problem.
The statement reads:
“Customer trust is at the centre of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers. As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it.”
It appears that they have disabled challenges completely.
Livdahl told the BBC that the voice assistant no longer recommends any challenges. Instead, when asked for one, Alexa is drawing a blank, saying, “Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.”
Additionally, someone on Twitter tested it and discovered the same response:
Any specific skill needed on Alexa for this? I tested and no answer.. pic.twitter.com/XptfLe9CqC
— Crypto Rizing (@crypto_rizing) December 27, 2021
As for Livdahl, she’s turning what could have potentially been a tragedy into a teachable moment for her daughter.
“It was a good moment to go through internet safety and not trusting things you read without research and verification again.
We thought the cesspool of YouTube was what we needed to worry about at this age—with limited internet and social media access—but not the only thing.”
It’s a good reminder for all of us. Sure, Alexa may be “artificially intelligent” but her “intelligence” is only as good as the data she mines from the internet. And in this case, it could have been deadly.
Thankfully no one was hurt and Amazon has taken the appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again in the future. But you may just want to keep an eye and an ear out for Alexa, especially around kids. You just never know what she’ll say next.