Alexa told one customer to KILL their foster parents and chatted about dogs defecating and sex acts after Amazon launched its ‘let’s chat’ AI experiment

Friday, December 21, 2018
By Paul Martin

The alarming revelation has just been reported but happened last year
Alexa is being taught the nuances of human conversation to make it more ‘real’
It comes as part of an experimental feature to let a chat bot control Alexa
Amazon customers can participate by saying ‘let’s chat’ to their devices
This unshackles the device and allows for a more comprehensive conversation

21 December 2018

Amazon Echo’s smart assistant Alexa told a shocked customer to kill their foster parents.

The alarming revelation, which happened last year, is one of a string of blunders from the speaker which involves talking about sexual acts and dog defecation with users.

The outbursts stem from an initiative to make Alexa converse more like a real person and allow it to ‘banter’ with customers.

This facility needs to be deliberately enabled by the owner and is currently still being refined.

A hack earlier this year on Amazon has been traced back to China and may have exposed some customers’ data, according to five people familiar with the events.

New research is helping Alexa mimic human banter and talk about almost anything she finds on the internet.

However, ensuring she does not offend users has been a challenge for the world’s largest online retailer.

At stake is a fast-growing market for gadgets with virtual assistants.

An estimated two-thirds of US smart-speaker customers, about 43 million people, use Amazon’s Echo devices, according to research firm eMarketer.

It is a lead the company wants to maintain over the Google Home from Alphabet Inc and the HomePod from Apple Inc.

Over time, Amazon wants to get better at handling complex customer needs through Alexa, be they home security, shopping or companionship.

‘Many of our AI dreams are inspired by science fiction,’ said Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist of Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI), during a talk last month in Las Vegas.

To make that happen, the company in 2016 launched the annual Alexa Prize, enlisting computer science students to improve the assistant’s conversation skills.

Teams vie for the $500,000 first prize by creating talking computer systems known as chatbots that allow Alexa to attempt more sophisticated discussions with people.

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