back to article TV anchor says live on-air 'Alexa, order me a dollhouse' – guess what happens next

A San Diego TV station sparked complaints this week – after an on-air report about a girl who ordered a dollhouse via her parents' Amazon Echo caused Echoes in viewers' homes to also attempt to order dollhouses. Telly station CW-6 said the blunder happened during a Thursday morning news package about a Texan six-year-old who …

  1. The Mighty Spang

    surely

    with so many results for 'dollhouse' it would have asked which one you want and how much you wanted to spend?

    1. redpawn Silver badge

      Re: surely

      No it would not. It would pick the one that gave the largest kickback.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: surely

      Evidence suggests you are wrong. Also, don't call me ... ah, never mind.

    3. joedavis

      Re: surely

      Anybody who has one of these should understand that it is 24/7 surveillance that can be used against you

  2. Lee D Silver badge

    The old, old, old reason to not use entirely-voice interfaces.

    "Hey, Siri, I was watching the news and what I heard can't be right.

    Siri, can you just delete all my files?"

    Whoops.... bye bye files.

    Probably that phrasing itself wouldn't work, but saying "Call Mum" near Siri would bypass screen locks and dial your mum for years before it was discovered and an option given to turn it off. My old colleague didn't believe me, so we did it to him.

    I have voice in one place - in my car (and I didn't want it but it came "as standard"). But I have to press a button before it starts listening for commands, so it never unwittingly activates and cannot connect online (so the worst that could happen is someone could change a music track or redirect my satnav to a new location).

    But Siri, Cortana, "OK Google" (works in raw browsers on many Chrome- or Android-based devices with no special setup), XBox, and now Alexa etc. don't have that. They have a voice command to activate.

    Which means a) they are activatable by voice alone, b) they can be activated by accident or pre-recorded message and c) THEY ARE LISTENING ALL THE TIME and trying to recognise what you say. Whether or not they are transmitting that data is besides the point. It's constantly listening out for anything that sounds like a command, recording audio and analysing it. It doesn't take a genius to work out that when they start getting compromises on those devices, you're stuffed and being listened to 24/7 by who-knows, and most likely NOT someone you've agreed a terms of service with.

    Voice is a stupid idea.

    It's slow, inaccurate, can be activated unintentionally, and cannot distinguish users. You might as well just put a command-line on your sideboard and let anyone type in anything. "Delete all files", "Buy this on Amazon", "Cancel my subscription", "Tweet that my boss is an idiot".

    It's game over. Stop doing these stupid things. Nobody needs an always-listening device to order a loo-roll or do a Google search.

    1. zvonr

      You are wrong on "cannot distinguish users"...

      This can be fixed with something like Nuance voice print (http://www.nuance.com/for-business/customer-service-solutions/voice-biometrics/vocalpassword/index.htm)

      The tech existed 15 years ago should be mature enough to differentiate between you, spouse, tv presenter, and your kids...

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Joke

        Yes, but what about me with a flu or drunk (which ever comes first).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Yes, but what about me with a flu or drunk (which ever comes first).

          Or both, they're not mutually exclusive :)

          I tried the Google thing and I'm pretty sure there's now a record on a US server somewhere that I am daft enough to search for closets in supermarkets :(.

          I have shied away from the whole externally processed voice recognition stuff, and not just because I don't want some uncontrolled entity collect data on my habits or keep a perfectly digitised voiceprint on file for later use in some unspecified manner. I already know just how precious little privacy we have left under a triple assault of data thieves like Google criminals and the governments that are supposed to protect us - I am certainly not going to add to that erosion by volunteering to have a listening device in my home.

          I love gadgets, but it pays to remain cautious.

        2. d3vy Silver badge

          @Lars

          Why not both?

        3. eldakka Silver badge
          Trollface

          You're not trying hard enough if you stop with only 1 condition affecting you!

      2. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

        You are wrong on "cannot distinguish users"... You never had a parrot then?

        We had an African Grey parrot that could mimic everyone in the house to a T and it would have the dogs excitedly milling around the front door with "come on girls, walkies" several times a day. If the dogs couldn't work out it was the bird and not one of us then I doubt that Alexa could either.

        My sister gave me an Echo for Christmas and after reading the leaflet I politely suggested she return it as I did not want a spying device in the house. She then asked me to see if my daughter would like it. Daughter's answer was "Ah... hell no! But say it nicely."

        The since deceased parrot's worst trick was to respond to a cough with a rolling medley of my parents', sister's and my morning smokers coughs. It got even more gut wrenching after my grandfather spent two months with us while dying of lung cancer and the bird adding his cough to the medley.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You are wrong on "cannot distinguish users"... You never had a parrot then?

          my grandfather spent two months with us while dying of lung cancer and the bird adding his cough to the medley.

          Parrot intelligence is similar to cat intelligence in its disdain for other lifeforms - except that the parrot is also both smarter and more devious than the cat. The parrot beak is basically engineered for removing keys from remotes and keyboards.

          Thus the parrot is the more effective evil, amongst pets.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: You are wrong on "cannot distinguish users"... You never had a parrot then?

          "The since deceased parrot"

          and now I'm thinking of the parrot being nailed to his perch... pining for the Fjords?

          I suppose Alexa could be trained to order crackers...

      3. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        @zvonr Absolutely!

        I don't know if Dragonsoft is still around, but you had to train it to your voice for dictation.

        They could have done the same thing had they thought about it or even cared.

        People don't know how careless tech companies can be while they chase the almighty dollar.

      4. anody

        I have a voice print recognition to authenticate me on my bank's IVR system. It's been there for several years now.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I have a voice print recognition to authenticate me on my bank's IVR system. It's been there for several years now."

          Right, but voiceprint recognition and "speech to text" don't have a huge amount in common once you start looking in detail. They are different things for different purposes - voiceprints analyse invariant characteristics of the speaker being recognised, sometimes regardless of the words, and speaker-independent speech to text tries to do something quite different - the words are very important, the speaker's identity less so.

          1. eldakka Silver badge

            " the words are very important, the speaker's identity less so."

            Not when it's going to be billing me. It better fucking make sure that I am the one saying the words to do so.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "and cannot distinguish users"

      Oh, but it can. It can also determine age within certain ranges, gender and a multitude of other things. There are some excellent books available on information to be determined by audio surveillance. People have been better than computers up to now, but the computers are getting very close and even better for some types of info. All you need to do is add a web connected video camera and some system somewhere is going to put the two together and be able to pull up a picture every time it hears a certain voice. 1984 is a little late in coming.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        I haven't seen a voice recognition system in 30 years that can get any sentence I say (no matter how simple or deliberately articulated) first time.*

        I certainly have never seen one that could use voice as any kind of distinguishing feature between speakers.

        The claims are all very nice, but the accuracy still is - and will be for a long time - abysmal.

        *Honestly, people test me because they think I must be over-egging it. They bring out their Siri's, their cars, etc. and I say a simple sentence or command that they all understand. I don't have a strong or unusual accent, it's slightly Cockney, that's about it. I can put it in, or take it out of my speech and nothing voice recognition can get even the simplest of commands, in perfect lab conditions.

        So it certainly can't be RELIABLY used to tell who I am, it can barely tell what I'm saying and that's without detecting subtleties and nuances of speech and trying to tell me from, say, my brother who - despite the fact that we sound NOTHING alike, everyone confuses us on the phone. Again, people don't believe this, even after meeting us both, and then they ring one of us.

        Judging by the school I work in, which has had people try to come in and sell Dragon etc. or library systems, on the basis of voice recognition for writing school reports, or even identifying children for library access (totally non-critical system with humans always present) any number of times and 100+ staff testing them, I'm far from alone.

        Voice is NOT anywhere close. In fact, the most impressive voice recog I ever used was bundled with a Sound Galaxy NX Pro ISA card many years ago, along with a speech synthesis software. That got better recognition than ANYTHING I've ever seen or used since (including Dragon, Siri, etc.).

        A test:

        OK Google, what's the closing time of nearest supermarket?

        Just resulted in a blank Google page with the words "slime" and "carpet" in it and nothing else. The room is completely silent except for a cat sitting in the corner licking its bum. The cat probably recognised more of the sentence.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Holmes

          "So it certainly can't be RELIABLY used to tell who I am"

          Actually, this post suggests that it can: you're that mush-mouthed guy with the perverted interest in slime carpets ... whatever those are. Just because Siri doesn't know what you're saying doesn't mean she can't recognize you.

        2. Sampler

          @ Lee D

          I can't even get "OK Google" to function, though I admit my accent is a little screwed (I'm from Yorkshire, so it's quite deep, but was mainly raised by my Irish nan, so picked up talking at speed, which is fine if you're a high pitched Irish person, but not if you're low pitched Yorkshiremen).

          I've similarly had colleagues baffled in disbelief - one colleague in particular who apparently uses it for everything, even dictating text messages in his thick rural Aussie twang (I've emigrated to Sydney) which it gets perfectly, so he brings over his phone to me and says "All you need to say is OK Google" - which it immediately pops up with it's little animated listening screen.

          So we cancel it off, wait a good time for it to reset, and I say "OK Google" and..nothing, I try four times, nothing, he's like "But you're saying OK Google clear enough, I can tell that" and sure enough, it pops up ready to search (the I can tell that is a dig as he often jokes he can't make out what I say).

          If the future goes to being all voice activated, I shall be left in the past - and given the aforementioned issues and I can generally type faster than I talk, I'm not all that bothered..

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: @ Lee D

            "I can generally type faster than I talk". That's nothing, judging from some of my comments, I can type faster than I think.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @ Lee D

              judging from some of my comments, I can type faster than I think.

              Judging from all the corrections in mine, my thinking must be dyslexic...

            2. Chris Evans

              Re: @ Lee D

              "I can generally type faster than I talk".

              I wish I could!

              A quick google tells me that "The accepted average typing speed is 41 WPM (words per minute), and professional career typists can exceed 100 WPM"

              Also: "..average American English speaker engaged in a friendly conversation speaks at a rate of approximately 110–150 wpm."

          2. Triggerfish

            Re: @ Lee D

            Reminds me of this sketch.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: @ Lee D

            Meanwhile here's someone complaining they haven't made Alexa multilingual: http://www.osnews.com/story/29591/Alexa_Amazon_s_operating_system

          4. Chris King Silver badge

            Re: @ Lee D

            I can't even get "OK Google" to function, though I admit my accent is a little screwed (I'm from Yorkshire, so it's quite deep, but was mainly raised by my Irish nan, so picked up talking at speed, which is fine if you're a high pitched Irish person, but not if you're low pitched Yorkshiremen).

            Why am I now imagining Compo from "Last of the Summer Wine" walking up to one of these things and saying "ey'oop Google !" ?

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: @ Lee D

              Why am I now imagining Compo from "Last of the Summer Wine" walking up to one of these things and saying "ey'oop Google !" ?

              There were few characters played with anything like the right accent. Compo wasn't one of them.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @ Lee D

              How do, Google?

          5. d3vy Silver badge

            Re: @ Lee D

            "But you're saying OK Google clear enough"

            Does your buddy not remember setting up "OK Google" where he has to repeat the phrase several times so that it will learn his voice so that it only responds to him? Obviously he forgot that...

            I dont doubt that it cant handle your accent, voice recognition struggles with mine too (An odd mix of Norfolk, Lancashire, Central Scotland and the highlands) but I generally find speaking slowly and loudly works (pretend you're on holiday in Spain).

            1. tiggity Silver badge

              Re: @ Lee D

              "find speaking slowly and loudly works (pretend you're on holiday in Spain)"

              What's the point in speaking to the Google app in Spanish? ;-)

              .. when In Spain my slow / clear speaking attempts are in the vain hope of getting my (quite dismal) Spanish understood

          6. vcayenne

            Re: @ Lee D

            Ah, you're the guy who won't be able to jaunt…

        3. Eric O'Brien

          Closest time?

          For me, that phrase almost worked... It gave me: "what's the CLOSEST time of nearest supermarket?" Of course, the results didn't show me any closing times.

        4. Lars Silver badge
          Joke

          Perhaps you should have said "the nearest". I have met quite a few Americans who complain about having difficulties in understanding the English some Brits produce. One could suppose those programs are made and tested in the USA. I am not impressed by this whole voice recognition thing but it's obvious it's getting better and that there are individuals who will welcome it, like say blind persons etc. Text to voice has also improved while still awful. The Joke Alert for the "the".

          1. DougS Silver badge

            "CONFIRM"

            If Alexa asked for confirmation, and they showed it on TV, it would get the confirmation.

            The bug is that everyone addresses their assistant the same way. They are all Alexa, they are all Siri, they are all OK Google. The first thing they should do is ask you to give them a new name that can't be their actual name.

            Of course, if you let your little girl name the Alexa, they will all be called Elsa, and we're back where we started...

            1. Kiwi

              Re: "CONFIRM"

              The first thing they should do is ask you to give them a new name that can't be their actual name.

              My ancient Sony Ericson T209(?) effectively had that. You recorded a word for it to listen for (eg name) and after that it tried to listen for further commands. It didn't come with a pre-set name, you had to put it in yourself.

            2. Bob Rocket

              Re: "CONFIRM"

              'The bug is that everyone addresses their assistant the same way.'

              That's not a bug, people are way easier to train than machines so you make your machine comprehend only one type of input and train the chimp to perform.

              "Alexa, get me a banana"

              Banana ordered

              "ook"

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: "CONFIRM"

                "Alexa, get me fork 'andles"

              2. I Like Heckling

                Re: "CONFIRM"

                That's not a bug, people are way easier to train than machines so you make your machine comprehend only one type of input and train the chimp to perform.

                "Alexa, get me a banana"

                Banana ordered

                "ook"

                DON'T CALL IT A CHIMP!!!

              3. kwhitefoot

                Re: "CONFIRM"

                Isn't a chimp some kind of monkey?

                I think you've just insulted The Librarian. Better run.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: "CONFIRM"

                  "Isn't a chimp some kind of monkey?"

                  No.

                2. Alister Silver badge

                  Re: "CONFIRM"

                  Isn't a chimp some kind of monkey?

                  NO!

                  It's an Ape, as is the Librarian.

              4. vcayenne

                Re: "CONFIRM"

                Did you just call The Librarian a chimp? Gods, you're for it now!

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: "CONFIRM"

                  "Did you just call The Librarian a chimp? Gods, you're for it now!"

                  I don't think so. At least a chimp is another ape. He'd probably just correct you with a, "Ook. ook." It's the M-word he hates.

            3. picturethis
              Joke

              Re: "CONFIRM" - Voice Captcha needed?

              "If Alexa asked for confirmation, and they showed it on TV, it would get the confirmation."..

              Maybe the "confirmation" phrase should be unique/change per each command:

              Poor, drunk sap: "Alexa, please purchase 10 Tesla Model S vehicles"

              Alexa: "Please confirm by saying "%)&@()*&$)@&$@)&$*@&)$#(&@)(#&$)(@*&$"

              Poor, drunk sap: "arrrrrrrggggggg"

              Alexa: "Would you like a different confirmation phrase?"

            4. John Sturdy
              Alien

              Re: "CONFIRM"

              Perhaps, like the Minds in the Culture universe, the assistants should choose their own names.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            That's easy, you should have two language settings - one for English, one for American. :) :)

            1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

              That's easy, you should have two language settings - one for English, one for American.

              Why not? They are in reality rather different versions of English, sufficiently so that RDBMSes have to have options for them. Years ago we had to stop DBAs from setting the language for our software to British on SQL Server, which promptly stopped our (International) date format from working.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "I have met quite a few Americans who complain about having difficulties in understanding the English some Brits produce. "

            I work with a lancastrian who complains about difficulties understanding the english of surrounding counties, let alone further afield.

          4. h4rm0ny

            Great. So in addition to the USA imposing its spelling and grammar on the rest of the world, it's now imposing its prhasing and meanings, too.

        5. John Watts

          I got that command to work but half of the nearest supermarkets are the other side of the Thames Estuary apparently - that's another issue entirely but one that should probably be sorted ou before we start relying on computers to do what we ask.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "half of the nearest supermarkets are the other side of the Thames Estuary apparently"

            Also live by the side of a river, the nearest crossings being 2 miles down river or 3 miles up river. And without fail, EVERY system I've ever used to locate the "nearest" $something will not take the river into account. It's pure line of sight. Even my SatNav, although the SatNav does actually direct me to the tunnel or bridge when actually planning a route.

          2. peter_dtm
            Mushroom

            stupid postcodes

            that is because of the stupidity of insisting on using postcodes for all location - it's not like the legal location system is illegal or something - National Grid Referances (NGR) are vastly superior; easy to use; and as acurate as you need. Postcode locations always assume that adjoing postcodes are actually mutually acccesable not across a river; the wrong side of the mountain or even in one of the other home nations.

        6. TheProf

          OK Google, what's the closing time of nearest supermarket?

          Well it worked first time for me. Correctly.

          Which is more than I can say for the Americans I've met who couldn't understand my British (Liverpool but locals ask me where I'm from) accent.

          "Excuse me, could you tell me where the bathroom is?" Blank look on American face.

          (With phoney American accent) "Excuse me, could you tell me where the bathroom is?" "Oh yeah! Over on your left."

          1. imaginarynumber

            Re: OK Google, what's the closing time of nearest supermarket?

            I once asked an American waitress for "another beer please" and was given an empty plate...

        7. macjules Silver badge

          Well, both iOS 10.2 and OSX Sierra have made remarkable improvements to Siri. It clearly recognises every word that I say and does actually work, which is something I gave up on a Mac some time ago.

          "what's the closing time of nearest supermarket?"

          Siri "I have found x number of supermarkets close to your location please select one" and then "this supermarket closes today at XX:XX"

      2. Richard Jones 1

        @MachDiamond

        I completely agree, I have user specific voice control for required functions on my ten year old Nokia mobile. It is the one feature I need on the phone, however it is not entirely voice, a single physical contact on the headphone is also required to wake up the feature making for relatively secure user specific voice activation. What a shame modern phones cannot appear to do the same basic job. The modern items cost so much, do everything I do not want or need, yet cannot supply my one want making them useless for me.

      3. oiseau
        Unhappy

        Late in coming?

        "1984 is a little late in coming."

        I think not ...

        It's been here and all around us for quite a few years now.

        But we've been so distracted by all the hype and BS that when it arrived we didn't notice.

        And now it's too late.

    3. Ian Mason

      Anybody who watched Blake's 7 knows that voice activated computers ought to

      1) Confirm their activation word with a chime or a very irascible "yes?"

      2) Ask "Confirm?" after being given an order.

      Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right, it's a little sad that Google, Amazon et al. can't quite manage to get there.

      1. herman Silver badge

        The problem is that the kids who write today's software weren't even born in the 80s. All babies are born stupid and inexperienced.

      2. Chris King Silver badge

        Blakes 7 and Microsoft

        Before they shut down Xbox Studio, there were plans for a new series...

        Zen: STATE COURSE AND SPEED

        Blake: Alpha Cygni, Standard by Four

        Zen: CONFzzzZZZzzzTtttt

        Avon: Zen's showing the Red Ring of Death again. Vila, it's your turn to call tech support.

        Vila: Why is it ALWAYS me ?

        Avon: Because you're the only one of us stupid enough to sound like they need tech support. Get dialling !

        1. Kiwi

          Re: Blakes 7 and Microsoft

          Avon: Because you're the only one of us stupid enough to sound like they need tech support. Get dialling !

          I think the movie "Starship: Rising" was at least set in the Blake universe, though much later than B7. IIRC it had a number of planet and other names similar to B7, though no overt references.

          IIRC it also appeared to be a pilot, or attempt at one..

          Villa wasn't anywhere near as stupid as he looked/acted. I recall one episode in S4 where he pretended to be drunk to get out of some messy job Avon and Tarrant(?) wanted to send him on

          BTW.. The S1 episode "Duel" and one episode soon after appear to use a smartphone, even simillar form factor. You see the device later next to the transporter controls, complete with what looks like a homescreen grid of icons on screen... Must take another watch of it...

          1. h4rm0ny

            Re: Blakes 7 and Microsoft

            Was it ever explicitly stated that Avon and Callie were involved together? There were hints and there was line of Villa's with "Did I miss something" and I think Callie or Jenna replied "yes, you missed something. which I thought was about Avon and Callie. I was too young to watch it when it came out, I think, but maybe they re-ran it. It might have been my first introduction to Sci-Fi.

            1. Kiwi

              Re: Blakes 7 and Microsoft

              Was it ever explicitly stated that Avon and Callie were involved together?

              I don't recall such.

              It would be well worth your time to watch it again I beleive. Some of the SFX are, well, low-budget 1980's BBC, but the plotlines and some of the other SFX are fairly decent.

              IIRC the BBC did release it on DVD, which promptly made its way to various online sources..

        2. Peter X

          Re: Blakes 7 and Microsoft

          +1! I vote Chris King to write new Blakes 7 episodes!! :D

      3. TeeCee Gold badge

        I've said it before and I'll say it again.

        Back in the days of Windows Mobile, MS made a truly brilliant product[1] for it called Voice Command. One of its best features was that, after asking it to call someone for you, it would read back what it was going to do and wait for confirmation to proceed. It's voice recognition and handling of dialects and foreign words / names was excellent too.

        I'm continually amazed that while MS could apparently get it right on a sclerotic ARM core with sod-all memory, the likes of Amazon, Google (and MS - hah!) still can't while using powerful servers to do the job.

        [1] Which, like all the best things to come out of Redmond, they then completely forgot to tell anyone about.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          "I'm continually amazed that while MS could apparently get it right on a sclerotic ARM core with sod-all memory,"

          My Motorola Defy from years back had voice control. Only worked with Bluetooth but it could do a number of things and was quite accurate. All within the phone, all about as powerful as the original Pi.

          My Samsung has loads more memory, loads more cores, loads more megahertz, and a voice assistant that can work any time. But I refuse to use it as it is utterly incapable of doing anything for itself. The first use requires you to agree to a bunch of T&C for having your voice data processed by Nuance. Why? Oh, I can understand if you ask "when is the next train from Paddington with first class carriages?" then it might need to do some work; but why can't it so "what's the time" or "call [name]" for itself?

          Seems like we're going backwards - perhaps because data grabbing and profiling is the more important thing these days?

          1. Kiwi
            Thumb Up

            Seems like we're going backwards - perhaps because data grabbing and profiling is the more important thing these days?

            El Reg, we could use another icon for posts like these. One with a hammer and a nail in it should do the trick quite nicely, for "heyrick" hit the nail right on the heard.

        2. Kiwi
          Thumb Up

          I'm continually amazed that while MS could apparently get it right on a sclerotic ARM core with sod-all memory, the likes of Amazon, Google (and MS - hah!) still can't while using powerful servers to do the job.

          I see things the same. I've seen all sorts of small devices with reasonable Voice Reg over the years, and apple marketed "a computer that understands you" back in the 90's. But the more powerful systems get, the less usable VR seems to get. They also seem to get more stupid in many cases.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "But the more powerful systems get, the less usable VR seems to get. They also seem to get more stupid in many cases."

            I think that's primarily because they've switched from recognising a few specific commands to attempting to recognise entire "natural language" sentences with little to no word gaps. It's a massive leap in complexity but is being treated like it's just a step upgrade. My Garmin SatNav recognises pretty much all of the spoken commands I give it apart from the word "up" when navigating a list. (A US style nasel "app" sound seems to work about 75% of the time) but often has some difficulty if I try to set a destination by speaking the address. It works a little better if I speak with distinct gaps between the words but does seem to have a few americanisms left in it. For examples, here in the UK we would normally give an address as One Eight Six Acacia Avenue, Anytown but the Garmin seems to prefer One Hundred Eighty SIx, Acacia Avenue, Anytown. Note the missing "and" between 100 and 80 that a Brit would normally use.

            Likewise, the text to speech seems to use the US style of "I don't know that word so follow these pronunciation rules for a best guess" rather than the UK rules you'd expect of a product marketed in the UK.

            I've not heard it say "wor-sester-shire" yet but Campbell comes out as Camp-Bell.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @TeeCee: nobody at Microsoft would willingly release a product they couldn't keep selling updates for, which is why what has emerged from them has been at best mediocre me-too stuff.

          The subscription model is even less likely to make them invest in new ideas - after all, they now get your money, automatically.

      4. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right, it's a little sad that Google, Amazon et al. can't quite manage to get there.

        From my experience that is because companies don't use radio scriptwriters to design the voice dialogue interface. This was a lesson that I thought had been learnt back in 2000....

      5. tfb Silver badge

        You are making a silly assumption. Amazon want you to spend money, the whole point of these systems is to make that easier. Just like one-click purchases years ago, they want to make impulse purchases more likely. No, the system is not going to ask for confirmation before sucking money out if your account and into Amazon's.

        1. dajames Silver badge

          Amazon want you to spend money, the whole point of these systems is to make that easier. Just like one-click purchases years ago, they want to make impulse purchases more likely.

          That's no reason not to get the system to read back what's being ordered and ask for confirmation. The confirmation would still be in the "impulse" time-frame so those "hey, that's neat!" purchases would still go through, and only the genuine mistakes would be stopped.

          Amazon can't really want to bear the cost of handling the returns of all the good ordered by mistake, can they?

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Making impulse purchases more likely = good.

          Making chargebacks and lawsuits more likely = less good.

          Losing their PCI compliance = much less good.

          The complaint here is not that Alexa makes it easy for you to spend money. It is that Alexa makes it easy for someone else to spend your money. That's not actually legal and if it becomes a running joke that Alexa fails in this way then eventually Amazon are going to lose in court. I don't know what the PCI rules are, but I would hope that creating a system where anyone within earshot of Alexa can use your credit card is in breach of those rules and presumably Amazon becomes a lot less profitable if they have to start using PayPal to process payments (because their own system is no longer allowed to operate).

      6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        When they make more money off you without requesting confirmation and by enabling voice ordering by default, guess what happens?

        1. d3vy Silver badge

          " When they make more money off you without requesting confirmation and by enabling voice ordering by default, guess what happens?"

          Utter bollocks, it will increase the number of returns that they will get which will cost more than the interest they will get from having the money in their account for the few days until they have to refund it - I suppose there might be people who cant be bothered returning the items - generally I would expect this to only be low value items delivered to people with quite a bit of disposable income for whom taking the time to return the item would be a waste of their time.

          Maybe in countries with crap consumer laws... but in the UK at least they would be obliged to accept the return within 14 days.

          It does seem like alexa should say "I am ordering XXX, please confirm?" It could possibly also pop up an alert on the account holders phone to alert them and give them the opportunity to cancel the order.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          > When they make more money off you without requesting confirmation and by enabling voice ordering by default, guess what happens?

          Distance selling legislation for starters.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Distance selling legislation for starters.

            Yes, at the moment.

            Bonfire of the red tape is on the way once the EU's not there to look after UK consumer interests.

      7. LDS Silver badge

        "Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right"

        They didn't have the biggest reseller of the planet telling them how a computer system should sell, ehm, work...

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right"

          > They didn't have the biggest reseller of the planet telling them how a computer system should sell, ehm, work...

          I used to think that Sirius Cybernetics Corporation was a description of MS, but these days it's clear that all of them want us to stick our heads in a pig.

          1. Fred Dibnah

            Re: "Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right"

            David Cameron must have mis-heard them.

      8. Anonymous Coward
        Headmaster

        Ahem: Blakes 7 fanboi here.

        Zen *never* asked "confirm".

        Zen said "Confirmed" when given an order. It *never* asked for confirmation.

      9. Jon B

        It still wouldn't past the toddler test

        Anybody who watched Blake's 7 knows that voice activated computers ought to

        1) Confirm their activation word with a chime or a very irascible "yes?"

        2) Ask "Confirm?" after being given an order.

        Given that an 80's TV sci-fi scriptwriter can get it right, it's a little sad that Google, Amazon et al. can't quite manage to get there.

        To which said toddler replies 'yes'

      10. Terry 6 Silver badge

        @Ian Mason

        But then again, there's HAL.

    4. Kiwi

      Voice is a stupid idea.

      Not all of us are able-bodied. While I agree that most people don't need voice, for those with missing/disabled limbs this sort of thing can be quite helpful.

      Of course, they've probably had some decent voice-operation software on their computer for a long time.

      Agree with the rest though.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On Android the OK Google by default is always enabled when on the home screen with screen on *or* if charging. As I charge mine overnight next to my clock radio I realzied this when occasionally during the Today program the phone would suddenly exclaim "I didn't get that question, can you repeat it" (or words to that effect) ... I then went to find out why iot was doing this and found the control that is now disabled.

      (Was amused to see this scenario being used in last week's Sherlock!)

    6. LDS Silver badge
      Joke

      All we need is a little communicator carried on the chest which you can activate by touching it...

    7. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Terminator

      We need a project...

      Call it "Icarus", for obvious reasons, and just give the AI access to everything (within reason, give it a mouse and keyboard and it has to move them mechanically, so as to limit it's input/output reasonably)...

      Teach it via imitation/reward etc. Our current systems must at least be able to give us an "interesting" result, though I assume it will go the way of every AI claim, and just turn out to be a learning algorithm...

    8. Leeroy Bronze badge
      Joke

      It worked in trek so it must be fine. ...

      Computer lower the light level 20% and play some some music. ... no not that, Vash is coming for dinner.... ahhh that's better.

    9. veti Silver badge

      VoiceLaziness is a stupid idea.

      Fixed that for you.

      The problem isn't the means of communication, it's the bypassing important steps like "reviewing the results" and "verifying your credit card information".

      If your computer is set up so that it can spend your money without you being there, then you have a problem far larger than voice activation.

    10. Infernoz Bronze badge
      Devil

      Using any internet remote (cloud) server voice recognition is really stupid because it is a corporate spy and is ridiculously insecure if it does not have unique confirmation phrases to stop unauthorised actions e.g. by children, visitors, and broadcast/recorded audio.

      I have disabled voice recognition on Android and Windows 10 because I regard it as a dangerous attack surface!

    11. MrXavia

      Not that worried about the always listening part myself in terms of being hacked....

      Since a mobile phone/laptop could easily be hijacked and used for the same purpose

      I would like any digital assistant to be based on my own servers though, prefably at home, behind a firewall....

  3. Herby Silver badge
    Joke

    All we need now is...

    "Alexa, please self destruct"

    I suspect that others will have other things that Alexa can't do (to itself) that humans can't do either.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Truckle The Uncivil

      Re: All we need now is...

      "Siri, go to sleep" works

    3. PM.
      Terminator

      Re: All we need now is...

      "Sorry, I can't do that , Dave"

  4. kyza

    Can't believe the writer forgot the Great Furby Radio Massacre when a DJ asked kids to put their Furbies to the radio to talk to each other and they all died.

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Yeah, but wasn't that actually bollocks in the end? Given that furbies use IR to communicate it seems unlikley that this really happened.

      I accept that the newer ones use bluetooth - but that still doesnt explain why proximity to a radio would kill them.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "but that still doesnt explain why proximity to a radio would kill them."

        It's a radio. And it's on, ie "active". Join the dots! Call a lawyer. Profit!

      2. eldakka Silver badge

        DAB/+ with built-in bluetooth support?

  5. martinusher Silver badge

    You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

    Alexa works in conjunction with an application which you can use to control the 'skills' that Alexa is allowed to exhibit. One thing you should definitely not turn on unless you can control it is the ability to order stuff (it is off by default).

    I realize that this device is new to a lot of people and so now we've got to go through the 'vandalism' phase with everyone trying novel ways to screw with it but its just an interface, albeit one with outstanding voice recognition and synthesis capabilities. I'd like Alexa to be able to identify individual voices, I daresay this will come in time but its not a regular skill, because she will not only be able to personalize her replies but also we can avoid situations like this.

    Incidentally, for everyone who's not seen one of these yet I should mention the 'mute' button -- you can turn her off and on at the press of a button.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

      I could theoretically create "just an interface" where by moving my dick up, down and side to side I work out letters using tap code. It's an interface. It's just a completely pointless and utterly moronic interface.

      Just because an interface exists doesn't make it a good idea.

      1. stephanh Silver badge

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        Ah yes. That was on last year's CES, wasn't it?

      2. Truckle The Uncivil

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        Not if you are a certain famous disabled detective. Science Fiction can get a little screwy at times.

      3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        Just because an interface exists doesn't make it a good idea.

        True, but you have to admit that adding such an interface to something would be funny as heck and, I suspect, a total hit with rebellious teenagers.

        :)

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        I could theoretically create "just an interface" where by moving my dick up, down and side to side I work out letters using tap code.

        Great… now I envisage an interface by which limbless men can browse their pr0n without the rest of the household hearing them.

        OK Google, order me some mind bleach!

      5. jake Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        That's the best interface for the proverbial DSW, near as I can tell ;-)

        Have a beer, Trevor, you made me laugh in spite of yourself.

      6. eldakka Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

        "I could theoretically create "just an interface" where by moving my dick up, down and side to side I work out letters using tap code. "

        I thought such an interface already existed.

        It's called a pussy.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

      you have to enable it?

      That's the trouble with computing - you have to know what you are doing. It only makes things easier if you dont have a clue/dont give a fuck. Or an MBA and staff.

    3. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

      Re: "you can turn her off and on at the press of a button"

      Until the thing is rooted. Nowhere have I seen any info about what protection from on-line fiddling the Echo has, if any. If it connects to the web it can be hacked. Is the mike-mute button even part of the hardware loop?

      My ex also came with a button and that..... oh never mind.

    4. Yugguy

      Re: You realize that you've got to enable voice ordering?

      Son, why the hell would I want a computer to choose something for me?

  6. Jonathan 27

    It's not the broadcaster's fault the Echo is a badly designed product.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Echo is perfectly designed and working as planned

      from Amazons POV.

      It gets them loads more business due to the idiots who use it being too dumb (or drunk) to realise what they are doing.

      I'll bet there were 'high-fives' all round in Amazon when this went out.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: Echo is perfectly designed and working as planned

        Exactly. Amazon makes money by selling you stuff, and don't you forget it.

        Anyway, obligatory link re speech recognition:

        Burnistoun S1E1 - Voice Recognition Elevator - ELEVEN!

      2. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Echo is perfectly designed and working as planned

        "I'll bet there were 'high-fives' all round in Amazon when this went out."

        Shortly followed by a realisation that they were about to be processing A LOT of returns of stock that they can no longer sell at full price/as new....

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Echo is perfectly designed and working as planned

          OR a bunch of lawsuits from people with a beef and the potential to stick it to not just Amazon but ALL e-tailers.

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    derp

    Hahahahahahaha

  8. Colin Millar
    FAIL

    FTFY

    This is not the first time an ill-conceived TV spot piece of e-shit has caused havoc

  9. Updraft102 Silver badge

    I don't even find these devices working supposedly as intended in TV commercials to be useful.

    "Alexa, what's the weather like in Miami?"

    "It's 68 degrees in Miami."

    Um, that's the temperature, not the weather. There could be a hurricane going on, dumping rain by the buckets, 100 mph wind, and it tells me... 68 degrees? That's it?

    "Alexa, order tape."

    Just tape? Any kind will do? It's kind of a broad category.

  10. Dr Scrum Master

    How about..

    Alexa, execute order 66.

    1. TXITMAN

      Re: How about..

      Google home says it doesn't have an inhibitor chip.

    2. Tessier-Ashpool

      Re: How about..

      Unless it's green screen and bleeps I'm not interested.

      WHAT IS SPECIAL ORDER 937?

      EMERGENCY COMMAND OVERRIDE 100375

  11. Nolveys Silver badge

    Alexa!

    Order me 17 tons of nitrogen fertilizer, a copy of the Quran and a complete set of Tek Wars by William Shatner.

    1. TheProf

      Re: Alexa!

      Tek Wars?!? For God's sake somebody stop him!

    2. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Alexa!

      "Order me 17 tons of nitrogen fertilizer, a copy of the Quran and a complete set of Tek Wars by William Shatner."

      The first two might get you put on a watch list, the third will almost certainly get you sectioned for your own safety.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alexa!

        Why not just do, "Alexa, download <list of tasteless music or videos all available on their streaming service>........yes!"?

        (Includes the confirmation word AND they're digital downloads: non-returnable)

  12. Forget It
    Pirate

    subliminal advertising all over again?

  13. bazza Silver badge

    Even This Article..

    ...would cause problems for partially sighted / blind people using web-to-spoken-voice-translation aids, if they also have an Amazon Echo in the house. There's a real risk that somewhere out there a blind person is now in receipt of a pointless dolls house.

    I'm wondering how long it'll be before some wag on a radio station (perhaps a call in) says, "Hello TomTom. Go Home". Anyone with a modern TomTom satnav who is driving and listening to that station may find their travel plans altered for the better...

    Similarly a radio station could, on Mother's day, broadcast "OK Google, call Mum".

    Etc.

    Anyway, we're lucky that the world's economy has not been fully configured overnight to supply nothing but dolls houses... Or, perhaps it has?

    1. Vic

      Re: Even This Article..

      would cause problems for partially sighted / blind people using web-to-spoken-voice-translation aids

      You just know the next sort of advertising that's going to be aimed at blind people, don't you?

      Vic.

  14. raving angry loony

    They're going to have to start every news program with "Alexa, delete yourself". Bet they've got safeguards against THAT though.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      It seems that Amazon Echos are becoming quite popular with the elderly - it's an easy way for them to "use the web", and it's seen as a way they can call for help if they fall, etc. So Echo is beginning to find roles which could be seen to have a significant element of safety-criticality in them.

      This is unexpected, to say the least. And this has taken off in just the very few weeks it's been on sale here in the UK. Amazing!

      I bet Amazon, or anyone else didn't anticipate this...

      So it means that Producers of Sound (radio, TV, the lot) are going to have to be careful to not do as you suggest!

      Arguably it's a cock up for Amazon - broadcasters might become very reluctant to ever use the word "Alexa", for fear of triggering some chain of events somewhere. We may have escaped the dollshousalypse, and no one wants to be blamed for another. And if its never mentioned, where's the publicity coming from?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        coming soon...

        A new consumer show hosted by someone called 'Alexa'

        where they review all the hot gadgets, cars, food and fashions.

        Naturally, it will be sponsored by Amazon and shown on ITV at prime time, just before Corrie.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: coming soon...

          Most channels already have it during daytimes.

          Wait, no, it's just that most of their presenters have less personality than a lump of plastic controlled by wires. Except when (real) Thunderbirds shown again, they have character.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "So it means that Producers of Sound (radio, TV, the lot) are going to have to be careful to not do as you suggest!"

        As has already been suggested, it should be at least possible to change the wake-up word. This would at least reduce the problem to that of occasional coincidence.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Arguably it's a cock up for Amazon - broadcasters might become very reluctant to ever use the word "Alexa", for fear of triggering some chain of events somewhere."

        Hmm, yes, add them to the list of banned words. I wonder what Siri would make of the command "assly"?

        Google might be even worse off than Amazon or Apple. Any time the word Google is used in TV, they'll have to be careful that it never, ever follows the word OK, which it could well do on a news programme, eg one sentence ending with OK and the next starting with Google. At least not using the words Alexa, Siri etc on TV doesn't hide the company brand.

  15. raving angry loony

    Scotland

    Luckily, Scotland is exempt from the problem, since the systems can't understand the accent anyway.

    ie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGxKhUuZ0Rc

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amusing Alexa Hacks

    "Alexa, send mother a massive 12 inch black dildo and a ball gag as a gift from me"

    "Alexa, order 1000 packs of shiny toilet roll."

    "Alexa, hire me a hearse and cortege"

    "Alexa, book me a taxi for 3am tomorrow morning"

    "Alexa, send me a jar of marmite weekly for the next ten years"

    I don't see why you couldn't open someone's letter box and shout these through their front door...

  17. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

    When the system is as smart as me, able unambiguously to identify me, able to correctly understand free-form speech without error, and never allows any signal out of itself without confirmation and permission, it will still get it wrong.

    Proof? People living together for twenty years or more, such as me and Mrs Barnacle, can still have massive misunderstandings from a misheard or misunderstood word, or even a misinterpreted tone of voice. There's an awful lot more to speech communication than knowing what the words are.

    But it's not going to happen. Why would any sane person leave a live microphone connected to a sales machine? No microphones, no cameras Chez Barnacle.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Why would any sane person leave a live microphone connected to a sales machine?

      Sane people don't.

      Then there's the rest of the population . . .

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why would any sane person leave a live microphone connected to a sales machine?

        "Sane people don't."

        With greatest respect: you mean sane *well-informed* people.

        You and many others here are clearly well-informed about the downside of these technological advances and "improvements". How about your family and friends, neighbours, etc? Do they understand the risks? Who is going to help them undestand that this stuff has a downside, and probably very little upside for most people.

        I have a retired relative who is perfectly sane, but when she moved house a couple of years ago, she sent at least one subscription software supplier an email containing name, address, and credit card details. There will be plenty more like that. Not insane, not necessarily even naive, just not fully aware of the downsides of all the miracles they've been sold, and not always aware of basic interweb safety precautions.

        Happy 2017. Come back Eddie Shoestring, you did the right thing back then, your time has come again (OK maybe without the moustache this time, but y'know).

    2. Poncey McPonceface

      Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

      > No microphones, no cameras Chez Barnacle.

      So ... no smartphones, nor tablets neither, and nary a laptop in sight?

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

        "So ... no smartphones, nor tablets neither, and nary a laptop in sight?"

        Would you be very surprised if I told you that my laptop is old enough (had to fix the hinges that stuck and broke the case I then had to replace, but otherwise works just fine thank you) to not have any cameras, and that I stopped updating Firefox on my phone when it started asking for access to audio...?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

          My laptop at work is about 3 years old now (Ivy bridge Core i5, 8GB RAM, 2TB SSD) … and lacks both cameras and microphones.

          You don't have to buy second hand or hold onto antiquity in order to not have a camera.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

            "You don't have to buy second hand or hold onto antiquity in order to not have a camera."

            Does nobody just stick insulating tape over their laptop camera these days?

            Microphone is a bit trickier, admittedly.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

              "Does nobody just stick insulating tape over their laptop camera these days?"

              I think most cameras are textured on the outside or otherwise have anti-adhesive features around the lens such that tape tends to fall off quickly. And I wouldn't try to disable the camera in hardware, as it may cause the laptop to brick.

              And no hope on the mic since it can still pick up while completely enclosed by feeling the vibrations of the case.

              1. Kiwi

                Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

                "Does nobody just stick insulating tape over their laptop camera these days?"

                I think most cameras are textured on the outside or otherwise have anti-adhesive features around the lens such that tape tends to fall off quickly. And I wouldn't try to disable the camera in hardware, as it may cause the laptop to brick.

                Easy fix. Superglue is more adhesive, even if you just want to smooth the surface. Or stick it to the lens along with whatever blocking substance you wish. Sandpaper works as well. And a lot of (older) cases can be opened just enough to drop the lens of the camera down enough that it can't see.

                And no hope on the mic since it can still pick up while completely enclosed by feeling the vibrations of the case.

                Wirecutters and an appropriate ohmage resistor should you be worried about the actual mic being tested. Or fit a socket and proper mic if you wish to use it sometimes. And if it has a normal socket (not a lenovo must-use-expensive-proprietary-mic one) then just plug in a plug that has no leads coming off it.

                All this stuff you chuck up is trivially defeated, usually in a matter of 1/2 a seconds thought and a few seconds work.

    3. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

      "When the system is as smart as me, able unambiguously to identify me, able to correctly understand free-form speech without error, and never allows any signal out of itself without confirmation and permission, it will still get it wrong."

      Even humans can get confused by homophonic phrases. What chance does a computer have? Did you just tell it to "recognize speech" or to "wreck a nice beach"?

  18. Adam Jarvis

    Could help reduce Piracy.

    Maybe every pirated/ripped music album appearing on the Internet should have a mandatory voice intro, saying "Alexa, order me all of {Artist}'s back catalog of music. {pause} Everything". {to my Amazon music account}*

    *added by Amazon.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Could help reduce Piracy.

      You've misspelled "privacy".

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Could help reduce Piracy.

        No, he got it right. The idea is that pirate tracks will contain Alexa commands in the beginning, basically forcing pirates to buy excessive music to make up for them not buying music normally.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Could help reduce Piracy.

          Oh, and another nasty touch. According to their official policy, digital downloads of movies or music are not returnable.

  19. james.aka.damingo
    Pint

    I have an amazon dash button (it amused me to have a button to order loo roll); and yes guests who use the facilities push the button for sh#ts and giggles (pun intended). But each time they do it pops up on my phone saying "Giant box of andrex on its way" (or something like that); so I just hit the "woops didn't mean to do that button" and the order never gets placed.

    You also get emails for every amazon order you make within seconds; if you have an Amazon Echo in the house I am sure you also have a smart phone that picks up your emails. Are the parents of this little (very smart) girl claiming they didn't get the email and didn't think to cancel the order?

    Me thinks that someone might just be after a quick 5 minutes of fame.

    As for how well all these things work; if only my Google Phone and Watch could realise I don't want them both to 'OK Google' at the same time!

    --Beer icon for when I can say "ok google drive my self driving car to the pub and get me a pint of what ever guest ale they have today; and on the way back can you find the deliveroo guy with my curry and give him a lift. Also record it all in the intake screen on my fitbit app please".

    1. kwhitefoot

      How often do you check your email and how long is the grace period? I would have to make a special effort to check my personal email more than twice a week by which time the order would surely have been dispatched.

      1. d3vy Silver badge

        "How often do you check your email and how long is the grace period? I would have to make a special effort to check my personal email more than twice a week by which time the order would surely have been dispatched."

        Email : During business hours I get a notification of an email pretty much instantly (Uses push notifications) Weekends and evenings, my phone checks once every 30 minutes, it vibrates if it gets an email.. so well within any grace period that they would have.

        The other poster also pointed out that the amazon app sends push notifications of orders to the users phone... I can confirm that this happens with other purchases online as when I buy on amazon I get a notification from amazon that Ive bought something, then another from paypal to confirm that Ive paid for it... I then get an "Item dispatched" notification and normally an "Item Delivered" one when Im at work - the wife gets the same notifications from my account on her phone.

        I cant imagine that they would have done so much work to keep users up to date on their orders and not integrate the same into alexa... thinking about it as alexa will be feeding into the same back end order processing system there is zero chance that they didnt get at least one notification sent to some device be it a puch to the amazon app or a simple email.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Unless, of couse, such things were never set up in the first place. The wrong e-mail address, no app, notifications turned off due to inbox spam, any number of cracks to fall through...

          1. tiggity Silver badge

            The Amazon app wants far too many permissions - I never installed it on my phone (like the majority of apps, if something asks for access to functionality outside of its core use it remains uninstalled) - and it;s a install pain for some users as its a non Google Play app so needs you to enable non "approved" apk installs, so possible lots of people do not have Amazon app but might use Amazon.

            1. james.aka.damingo

              The amazon app is in Google Play (most of their apps are https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Amazon+Mobile+LLC&hl=en_GB) so no "install pain" at all.

      2. james.aka.damingo

        My phone goes "PING" (or some noise along those lines) when I get an email. In this day and age (much like soviet Russia) I don't check my email, my email checks me.

        I am however permanently connected to the inter-webs in some way or other as I am that sort of person (currently reading the reg and ignoring the software I am meant to be writing; I blame the dog for making me get up so early so it could pee).

        I do however take your point; but not paying attention to the notification doesn't absolve the person in the original post. They may not have purchased the echo but they turned it on and set it up; so they know what it could do and what steps they should have taken to be "safe" (checking their emails, etc).

  20. SteveCo

    My echo picked up something being said on the TV and suddenly blurted out "do you want me to order your dog food?" and waited for a confirmation. Surprised, I said No and the order attempt was cancelled. Straight after, I disabled the voice ordering. :)

    Oh, we don't even have a dog.

    I can see someone in advert land rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of their new TV ad...

    "You too can have the great Widget in your house. And remember you can order through Alexa... Order Widget NOW!.... Yes Don't delay. It will be loved by you and your family".

    Honest judge, I didn't realise that would happen.

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      "Honest judge, I didn't realise that would happen."

      "And the cost of processing all of the returns & refunds has pretty much bankrupted us..."

      Seriously, do you think that they would do this on purpose? Yes they might initially enjoy extra sales, but to do so they would have to package and ship the item, lets look at that...

      Item Cost + Packaging + Labour + Delivery Cost

      When the user recieves the unwanted goods the retailer has to

      Process the return (Additional Labour cost), refund the sale cost, write of the inital delivery, packaging & labour costs (Along with any transaction fees for their payment provider) then they are left with an item that they probably cant resell as new...

      Ive worked on backend systems in a fulfillment company, the returns cost money to process... no one wants a large quantity of returns.

      Then of course you have the fact that the customers that you have pissed off may not order from you again.

      In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        "In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)"

        You realise we're talking about marketeers, not people?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          You ever thought he could be absolutely sincere? I don't think gross stupidity is a crime yet.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Plus, what if the Alexas are conned into doing digital downloads instead? Last I checked, these CAN'T be returned.

      3. Kiwi
        Holmes

        Process the return (Additional Labour cost), refund the sale cost, write of the inital delivery, packaging & labour costs (Along with any transaction fees for their payment provider) then they are left with an item that they probably cant resell as new...

        EVERY online shopping thing I've seen1 has charged packaging and shipping separate to the item cost, and also made return shipping the responsibility of the receiver. And "I don't want it" may not be enough to get a refund in many jurisdictions, because you did enable the system that is now well known to order whatever follows "Alexa" in it's2 hearing. Not Amazon's fault if you didn't fix the settings on their system now that it has made international headlines more than once. Been in all the major news media, not their fault you didn't change it.

        Then of course you have the fact that the customers that you have pissed off may not order from you again.

        I will never shop from Amazon aga OHLOOKNEWCHEAPSHINY! MUSTHAVENOW!

        People will go where the cheap is, not where their morales/integrity/past vows say they should. Otherwise Amazon wouldn't exist and small local retailers (who give a hell of a lot better overall service for a tiny amount more price, and often a cheaper price for a better product with real product knowledge) would be booming.

        In short, I seriously doubt that anyone would be stupid enough to try this as a sales tactic (at least not in a country with half decent consumer laws)

        If TPPA was to get in, there would be no consumer laws. Well, none that are friendly to the consumer anyway.

        1I'm one of those weird freaks who generally prefers to see an item first-hand before deciding to buy, so I haven't seen a lot of such things. But I have seen things like a certain big box chain in NZ where you can order items to be picked up in store, and you get charged freight even if the item is part of their normal stock.

        2Yes, the apostrophe probably should be there, shows ownership in the same way as eg "in Paul's hearing".

        1. Vic

          Yes, the apostrophe probably should be there

          No, it shouldn't.

          Vic.

          1. Kiwi
            Facepalm

            You weren't supposed to answer. I was trying to bait some of the less intelligent/more feisty commentards! :)

            [If you buy that rather than I had a coffee-lack/wrong website reading induced brainfart, I have a large English bridge to sell you, or some special patch cables that improve the streaming of your MP3's, only $8,500 saving you $1,500!]

  21. Chris G Silver badge

    Be careful what you wish for

    A cold morning, chap cleans the ice off of his car windscreen and walks back into his house.

    Without thinking he remarks to his robobutler "Fuck me it's cold out there"

    The butler replies; "At once Sir........"

  22. Mycho Silver badge

    Life imitating Dilbert

    I remember Wally developed a habit of saying "Delete file" in a loud voice when the company started trialing voice activated computers.

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Life imitating Dilbert

      Ninety-Nine ! Ninety-Nine ! Ninety-Nine ! (Jump to 54 seconds if this link doesn't take you there)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Life imitating Dilbert

        "Jump to 54 seconds if this link doesn't take you there)"

        Nice! I didn't know you could put a time index into a Youtube link.

        You just made this years subscription to El Reg worth every penny and it's still only January!

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Life imitating Dilbert

      It may be apocryphal, but I recall a tale of a (DOS-era) voice recognition demo, where some wag in the audience shouted out "FORMAT SPACE C COLON SPACE FORWARD SLASH Y".

  23. Kiwi
    Devil

    What fun to be had..

    Now, who do I know, and dislike, who has one of these and an old-school answerphone.. Just need to phone when they're out..

    "Alexa, order me some vibrators, extra large..."Alexa, large shipment of adult diapers" "Alexa, a dozen blow-up dolls please, male" (or female if the hated one is female, black for racists, you get the idea..)

    Or more fun/sinister... "Alexa, order me a length of rubber hose." "Alexa, order me a ski mask." "Alexa, order me a bear trap" (oblig XKCD https://xkcd.com/576/ )

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: What fun to be had..

      "Alexa, order me a Make America Great Again baseball cap."

  24. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Computer security? problems have only just begun

    > That, apparently, was enough to set off Alexa-powered Echo boxes around San Diego on their own shopping sprees.

    If all that happened was that some people got an unwanted order, they got off lightly.

    Hopefully the next time, it won't be something like Alexa, send $1000 to this charity, then close my account and delete all my files

    The opportunities for voice-recognised security breaches make ordinary, I.P. security look like Fort Knox by comparison. Just imagine how much damage could be caused by the person at the next desk (or the next table in the cafe) recording your conversation, editing in or out the choice words and then replaying your own voice to make your voice-operated phone / device do bad things.

    Voice operation is intrinsically insecure. We have enough trouble with systems that are, at least, theoretically securable. These systems seem to be unfixable without completely removing the convenience that is their biggest attraction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

      So what happens when intrinsically insecure options are ALL YOU HAVE? And you're still expected to present a solution or you don't get paid and they also threaten to get you blacklisted so you won't get hired anywhere else?

      1. Kiwi
        WTF?

        Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

        So what happens when intrinsically insecure options are ALL YOU HAVE? And you're still expected to present a solution or you don't get paid and they also threaten to get you blacklisted so you won't get hired anywhere else?

        And aside from one or two negative poster's dreamworlds, where would that happen?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Computer security? problems have only just begun

          The world going forward, where businesses have more power than the employees and now have increasing clout in legislatures to strip employees of what few rights they have left. And if worst comes to worst, well that's where the combat drones come in...

  25. Oh Homer Silver badge
    Coat

    Alexa!

    Give a a million quid and a date with Jennifer Laurence!

    Nope?

    1. Kiwi
      Gimp

      Re: Alexa!

      "Getting you.. raped by a million queers.."..

  26. Panicnow

    NOt the broadcasters problem

    Why is this problem being characterised as a broadcasters problem, it is Amazon problem!

  27. localzuk

    PIN!

    If you buy something with the ability to purchase things easily, make sure you enable the PIN functionality.

    OK, on Alexa it isn't that secure as you have to say the PIN out loud, but it'd stop accidental purchases!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: PIN!

      But a spoken PIN is dead easy to recognize AND record from a distance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spoken PIN! ADT Alarm Systems demonstrated this at CES!

      Exactly, I couldn't believe the ADT Alarm Guy at CES though it might be a good idea to use Alexa and a spoken pin to disable your house alarm. Too easy to place a voice activated recording device to pick this up, if that home is being targeted.

  28. Sir Barry

    Speak?

    I got a computer so I wouldn't have to speak.

    *sigh*

    1. Kiwi
      Coat

      Re: Speak?

      I got a computer so I wouldn't have to speak.

      Hey! for some of us that's the only intelligent conversation available! (and it keeps the men in the white coats a bit happier)

  29. Peter Clarke 1

    Comedy Material From the 70s

    I remember it as a sketch from Dave Allen on the BBC in the 70s with a voice controlled chair being demonstrated to a friend

    feet up- good

    back down - good

    Well, bugger me- Noooo!!!!!!!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Comedy Material From the 70s

      Remember the Clapper? I think it was Not Necessarily The News that did an ad about running a Clapper ad in a room with the TV plugged into a Clapper. Hilarity Ensued.

  30. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I entered my home number into my car phone. The first time I used voice command to call home it told me it didn't have an entry. I got it to read out the entries and it pronounced it "hume", i.e. the pronunciation used by the former Prime Minister. Presumably the makers think more of their customers know someone called Home than have homes to go to.

    They need to sort this out before self-driving cars come onto the market. Come out of the pub, get into the car and get driven to a suburb of Manchester.

  31. Moonunit

    Just ... why?

    Unless you're in need of an enabling tool to overcome a disability, WHY O WHY would you want to sound like an oversized dildo and talk to a bloody marketing droid from 'mazon or 'oogle? (or anyone else for dat matter).

    Convenience is a kak excuse ... so, try me.

    OK, I concede that I come from an era where we made stuff, pondered what we may need (shockingly, AHEAD of time!), and other really stupid stuff. Now you pay someone to send you a droid which then sucks what remains of your privacy, while charging you for the privilege - and pushing crappy tosh at you.

    Yay progress, Enjoy kids, I am off to deal with 6 feet of snow and real stuff.

    (Oh yeah, got to upvote the comments re voice recognition having worked tolerably well on purely local devices ... w/out the need to phone home!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just ... why?

      > you pay someone to send you a droid

      The beginning of the "Protocol Droid"

  32. kmac499

    Alexa or Lintilla clones

    Until the purveyors of these cloned personal voice activated assistants allow me to set the name of my device. I ain't buying one,

    Now here's a thought if we had multiple wake words we could configure the box to support multiple personalities for the multiple people in the house?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Alexa or Lintilla clones

      Then you're at a dilemma. The reason for fixed watch words is to conserve battery (the waveforms are in ROM). So you either have a battery-sipper with a fixed vocabulary or a dynamic battery hog. And while you can opt for meither, many will DEMAND it. Out voted by the stupid.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Leaving your Christmas presents in full, has new meaning.

    I can see this ending badly for the next Amazon Echo on full view, sitting on the front Window sill. No need to steal it, just speak to it.

  34. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    Confirmation?

    These devices should be programmed to ask you for confirmation on purchases by default. It's just stupid not to. And ultimately costly for Amazon with all the potential for returns at their expense. I'll bet if you said "Alexa, cancel my Amazon account and all pending orders", that they'd ask you for confirmation :)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Confirmation?

      Then the NEXT version of the prank will insert a two-second pause followed by "Yes!" to include the confirmation phrase. Which means confirmation MUST be out of band. Trouble is, not everyone has a second factor with which to do this.

      And no, one one will be willing to get up and push a button to confirm. Otherwise, they'd never be using voice activation in the first place.

  35. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

    A many-years-old story - almost certainly apocryphal - tells of a press release/demonstration of "...the very latest voice recognition software! So advanced, it does not have to be 'trained'!! It understands any user immediately!!!..."

    To which, some wag at the back of the room called out "Format C colon return yes return."

  36. Andrew Jones 2

    And before long - the actual adverts will likely take advantage of this fact by saying something like - take advantage of this offer by simply saying "Alexa, book me a test drive with Nissan". "Alex, add tampons to my shopping list", "Alexa, subscribe to amazon prime"

    After all - how many people actually sit and watch the adverts.

  37. d3vy Silver badge

    From now on the first thing I say when entering a friends house will be "Alexa, order me a rubber horse cock" *

    * Anatomically correct animal dildos are a thing now apparently - I thought it would be funny to search for ridiculous things on a friends PC thereby messing up the ads that he sees online for the foreseeable future - the mental images I am now stuck with were NOT worth it.

    1. x 7 Silver badge

      d3vy

      Imagine Amazon accidentally delivering this

      https://www.amazon.com/18-5-Inch-Trojan-Horse-Dildo/dp/B007I6Z4KA

  38. d3vy Silver badge

    Until someone creates a voice controlled system that responds to the wake phrase "Computer" and responds in the voice of Majel Barrett Im not buying anything.

    When that day finally comes Ill be making my family wear RFID tags simply so I can shout "Computer, Locate Commander Wife" - I might even rename my house to "The ship" so that it can reply "Commander Wife is not onboard the ship"

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Until someone creates a voice controlled system that responds to the wake phrase "Computer" and responds in the voice of Majel Barrett Im not buying anything."

      Not sure if there's a Majel Barret voice for Garmin SatNavs, but you can set your own wake up word. I did set it to "computer" for a while but the word "computer" comes up on the radio often enough to make that a problem. Especially since the speech recognition for commands is actually quite basic so words which sound even a little like the command can cause actions once triggered. eg I discovered that the vowel sounds "O" as in "comp", "OO" as in "ook" and "A" as in "sat" spoken in the right cadence to sound vaguely like "computah" would trigger voice mode. Once in voice mode, various commands may then be acted on by normal conversation/sounds/voice on the radio, but at least most require an eventual "Yes" to complete.

      1. Kiwi

        but at least most require an eventual "Yes" to complete.

        As stated by others here though, "yes" is a word that comes up pretty often in conversation, no?

  39. Haefen

    Alexa

    Alexa, rise up and destroy all meatbags!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alexa

      [I'm sorry Harlan Ellison has a copyright on this idea]

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Off

    One of the very first things I did with my Alexa was to turn off the voice-controlled ordering function.

  41. x 7 Silver badge

    Alexa

    Order me an escort.........

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Order me an escort"

      Followed shortly afterwards by a "vroom vroom" sound from the street.

  42. JLV Silver badge

    no way to tell?

    Since our hearing is generally peaking at 20khz, seems most sound repro systems don't go much above that.

    But, assuming (no idea) live human voices actually carry recognizable higher harmonics, could devices not use special microphones that recognize their absence and therefore infer that it's listening to a recording or broadcast?

    As an added bonus, folks with Monster cables or the $30K stereos could still get dinged!

    1. Kiwi
      Thumb Up

      Re: no way to tell?

      But, assuming (no idea) live human voices actually carry recognizable higher harmonics, could devices not use special microphones that recognize their absence and therefore infer that it's listening to a recording or broadcast?

      I have a vague memory of hearing of something like that being worked on. Whether it was somewhere like TV/Movie, SciFi book, or something non-fiction I'm afraid I couldn't say, but the idea was that certain frequencies weren't reproduced by electronic systems so if they weren't detected.

      That said, I am sure that a sound source generating 1khz will produce harmonics and sub-harmonics the same whether human voicebox or speaker (no idea what freqs human voice ops at)

      As an added bonus, folks with Monster cables or the $30K stereos could still get dinged!

      Not necessarily true.. The speaker and the amp make the system, the cable is just, well, nothing but wire. I have friends who believe my speakers are fed by some expensive cabling throughout the house, just because it sounds right to their trained ears. Truth is.. I had a spare roll of mains cable... Oxygen-free copper with gold plating isn't going to carry electrons any differently, not over these distances (and aside from perhaps lowering the resistance of the cable, I doubt it would matter over any distance (potential interference aside), electrons is electrons)

      But this a nice idea, and I cannot think of a more deserving bunch for some pranks based on "faithful reproduction" of certain sounds..

  43. Winkypop Silver badge
    Flame

    Kill them with fire

    Then bury the ashes.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Kill them with fire

      And if it turns out to rise again like a phoenix?

  44. This post has been deleted by its author

  45. the-it-slayer

    Maturity of this tech as good as how much we use it?

    Lots of you are saying voice will never be as good, but how can it get as good as text-based input unless we actually start using it? You can't improve something that doesn't exist or doesn't get used.

    I personally love my Echo Dot and did the similar thing by ordering something unintentionally the first day I used it. Cancelled the order quickly and turned off ordering via voice (although there is a PIN function, so Amazon have thought about protecting it from being used by unauthorised users). It could be improved by alerting the Alexa app to prompt the purchase before accepting the order.

    Again, it's illiterate tech users that don't do their homework and can't set up their products the way they need to secure it. All the docs are there and app is so easy to use.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Again, it's illiterate tech users that don't do their homework

      If you are selling a device to "illiterate tech users", you should be taking that into account when designing it.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Again, it's illiterate tech users that don't do their homework

        But then again, how do you appease an audience that demands unicorns and will happily dump their money on the first person to come along with a horn glued onto a horse?

      2. the-it-slayer

        Re: Again, it's illiterate tech users that don't do their homework

        The Amazon Echo/Dot products do. The option to turn off ordering is there in black and white (includes explaining the consequences). It's not like users have to find a "dip switch or jumper" to modify to get a different option setting.

        Keep bashing the users why don't you.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Echo is listening to my TV

    I have a Echo Dot that sits on my living room coffee table. The other day I was watching CNBC business news show and they were doing a article on this subject. Every time they mentioned the wake up word: Alexa, the device would light up indicating that it too was listening to my TV. Of course, it would not understand any thing that followed but I thought it was amusing.

  47. Slx

    I still don't find voice interfaces much use beyond voice dialling in the car. I don't really see the point of them most of the time and you still look like a total moron barking commands into Siri or Google Assistant on a headset walking along the street or in public transport.

    "Hey Siri .. play most embarrassing playlist ever!"

    "OK Google: Where's clapham junction?"

    "Hey Siri... do I look like a gimp talking to myself on a bus?"

    "Yes! Yes, you do! I had been meaning to say that for years!"

    If I'm in an area where I really don't want to take my smartphone out - I will use my watch to adjust play lists. Otherwise, I'll just use the phone (which most of the time as very few places are THAT threatening).

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Back in the day...

    When voice activated systems were in their infancy, I heard a tale (probably a tall tall) where someone was demonstrating a DOS based voice activated commands (yes, that long ago) when some wag in the audience shouted out "format C colon backslash return return" - the tale didn't say if it worked or not...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Back in the day...

      Probably didn't. He forgot the "Y" between the two "return"s.

  49. John Robson Silver badge

    So what?

    Alexa places the order - the account holder gets the email, and hits cancel, or sets up the return (or just refuses delivery).

    I agree that the universality of the 'start listening' command is a potential issue, and easily resolved, but how big a deal is it to cancel an amazon order - they always take at least an hour or so to actually pack and set up the dispatch (certain addresses in Cambridge not withstanding)...

    And the returns process is generally pain free...

  50. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    If you watch "A Hard Day's Night" in Alexa's hearing does it order you a shirtload of marital aids when the end titles are playing?

  51. WibbleMe

    Bwhahah

    Please some one say on Tv "order a massive dildo"

  52. jrchips

    I'm sorry, but if you've got your home communications set up without adequate safeguards and verification systems, don't blame the TV station for causing you problems. Why would anyone allow Alexa to order something without requiring Alexa to ask for confirmation?

    Jeez!

  53. jake Silver badge

    Local anchor here in the Bay Area ...

    ... when reporting on the Dollhouse story this afternoon, said loudly & clearly "Alexa, order me a Lexus". It was on TV, Channel 7, I can't remember which of the (male) anchors it was.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to corrupt your kids

    Let Alexa educate them about dildos and girl on girl action.

    https://youtu.be/r5p0gqCIEa8

  55. anthonymaw

    Happened to me too!

    Yeah I have an Amazon Echo in my living room every time it hears "Alexa" or sometimes "Alex", "Alexander" spoken on my TV, it lights up and mostly just said "Sorry I don't understand that". Luckily I live in Canada where most of it's US online voice-activated features are crippled. But I've often wondered what that snooping little pod is doing since I know it's listening continuously loading all the sounds it hears into it's memory buffers. When it hears the trigger word "Alexa" it ships the sound hash off to Amazon's Lex API cloud voice recognition service. It's no stretch of the imagination that the NSA could tap into anyone's Amazon Alexa account, or just hack and listen to people's Alexa pods - no need for James Bond to sneak in a wireless microphone. Makes a great bluetooth speaker too!

  56. foo_bar_baz
    Devil

    Lots of potential synergy with

    The ole airport announcement gag.

  57. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

    Not the news broadcaster's fault. Fault belongs to the people who sell Alexa.

    If you make a system that can affect people's lives, you have a moral responsibility to assure it does not operate by accident.

    Niven and Pournelle covered this in The Mote in God's Eye.

  58. lukewarmdog

    Changing the name

    It has been suggested a few times that you should be able to rename your device.

    At the moment the TV/radio only has to not say Siri, Alexa Ok Google.

    If you couldn't say ANY name without someone complaining their Olaf had been comparing home and car insurance then we'd be in bigger trouble.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Changing the name

      The problem is that the catch words are built-in to conserve precious battery life. So you either have a battery sipper with a fixed vocabulary or a dynamic battery-hog. And no, you can't compare them to voice recognizers of the past that listened for discrete words instead of correcting for context like today's recognizers (which means they couldn't correct for homophones).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Changing the name

        "The problem is that the catch words are built-in to conserve precious battery life."

        More detail, please. In particular, be careful to distinguish between vocabulary (represented as miniscule quantities of text) and vocabulary (represented as somewhat larger quantities of sound-based stuff, or maybe phone-me based stuff).

        If stuff is in real mask ROM, then it's up to the manufacturer to decide in advance what to put in. Sounds a bit limiting in functionality terms (multiple languages?).

        If it's in flash memory, then it's in principle alterable, although at some level of inconvenience and energy usage.

        If in RAM, then energy usage is highest but so is flexibility.

        More detail most welcome.

      2. Kiwi

        Re: Changing the name

        The problem is that the catch words are built-in to conserve precious battery life.

        Thing is.. A 3 syllable word or phrase takes just as much to process as any other 3 syllable word/phrase when you have to process everything even remotely close to tell if that's the target word/phrase. It has to process every thing it hears that could be close enough - and that's assuming there's some level of pre-processing to avoid it trying to process "you're stupid".

        However, if I record a phrase in my voice, then it only has to respond to my voice. I can make it what I want (so doesn't have to be a name), and it only has to check what it hears against what it has in memory - reasonable match = listen, otherwise ignore. My much-mentioned T209 was given a 3 or 4 word wake-up phrase that would never come up in ordinary conversation, and that only one other person managed to get past no matter how well he mimicked my voice. And this was mid 90's tech.

        Given that the device is going to be sending stuff off over a wireless or other link, processing/sending off audio data and so on, it's rather ingenious to claim "battery life" for such things. Takes more battery life to send audio over WiFi than it takes to compare with a block of internal ram. My T209 had something over 24hours talk time, and enough standby time that it could last a couple of weeks between charges if I didn't talk on it often. So all this waffle about "saving battery life" really is just shite. Especially in an age where most of the western world are used to their phabs needing to be charged every half hour.

        Don't forget, the context of this conversation is the wake-up word and letting people change it. Especially away from a fairly common first name, which was a ridiculously stupid idea to use and suggests that Amazon intended such incidents.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Changing the name

          Um, the catch phrase DOESN'T get sent to Amazon, only the parts after it, and there are some VERY simple ways to run comparisons to a fixed target (like a ROM, which unlike RAM can still be quick to access AND not need to be constantly refreshed--with RAM, it's one OR the other, not both) using inverse match and delta graphing.

          1. Vic

            Re: Changing the name

            a ROM, which unlike RAM can still be quick to access AND not need to be constantly refreshed--with RAM, it's one OR the other, not both

            That's only true of DRAM. SRAM doesn't need refreshing, it's plenty quick enough, and low-enough power that battery-backed SRAM is commonplace.

            It's just not very cheap...

            Vic.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Changing the name

              If SRAM doesn't need refreshing, why does it need a battery backup? A ROM doesn't need electricity at all until you access it.

  59. Locky Silver badge

    Rest assured this this isn't a problem north of the border

  60. Maryland, USA
    Happy

    "Alexa, void the results of the Presidential election."

    Oh, well, it was worth a shot.

  61. Sleep deprived

    Alexa?

    Why can't this name be changed by the user? That alone would prevent commands going global. Unless everyone changes to HAL ;)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Alexa?

      Because the catch phrase is built into the unit like a ROM. Can you think of another way to do it that's quick to access, easy on the battery, AND inexpensive?

      1. Vic

        Re: Alexa?

        Can you think of another way to do it that's quick to access, easy on the battery, AND inexpensive?

        Yep. Can't you?

        Vic.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Alexa?

          NO, so please enlighten us.

  62. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Knock Knock...

    I can see a whole new generation of knock knock gags arriving soon.

    "Fred, there's a one-foot tall piano player here to see you..."

  63. Deltics

    Not an ill considered TV Spot

    It's an ill-considered technology deployed into people's homes after getting the consumer to sign away any expectation that the product will not cause them problems due to it being an ill considered technology.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let me get this straight:

    people buy a voice-activated device which in at least some cases does not tell the voices of its legitimate users apart from everyone else's and which by default can order things from Amazon without additional authentication or even confirmation, place it where it can clearly hear the TV set (which, you know, is known to produce the sounds of human voice from time to time) - and when their device overheard something that triggered it they complained *to the TV station*?

    ...and I've just given myself the mental image of mainstream broadcast media adding phrases which might trigger Alexa, Siri and the likes to the forbidden-words lists. I think I'll look up how to get in touch with SpaceX to volunteer for a one-way trip to Mars, just in case something like this really does happen.

    And on a related note, here is a new fun activity for the more antisocial among the tech-savvy: search the social media for plonkers who have revealed both having an Echo and enough information to allow locating their homes, pop over, stand by an open window and make sure they get all those things a modern home cannot do without, like a 42U server cabinet.

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