back to article Alexa, why aren't you working? No – I didn't say twerking. I, oh God...

No wonder Silicon Valley is excited about the Amazon Echo. Let's be honest. These voice-controlled assistants have been the only hit the Valley's had in years: the only successful new consumer electronics category. 3D telly, smartwatches, they all came and went, but always-on assistants are a smash. Well, Amazon’s Alexa has …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Putting the AI in FAIL

    Alexa, delete yourself.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      " Putting the AI in FAIL "


      So simple yet so obvious. I can't believe no one's spotted this before.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: " Putting the AI in FAIL "

        If you follow me on Twitter (it's free, just ask) you'll know that #F_AI_L is quite a popular thing.

        Maybe even the next "Internet of Shit".

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "on Twitter (it's free, just ask) you'll know that #F_AI_L is quite a popular thing."

          I did not know this.

          But then I haven't used Twitter.

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: " Putting the AI in FAIL "

        I'm sorry , Whats a speech recognition gimmick box got to do with AI?

        1. Doctor_Wibble

          Re: " Putting the AI in FAIL "

          You need the AI to process the recognised speech and convert it from what you said into what you meant.

          As per TFA, 'play music' needs to then apply a preferences filter and combine that with voice stress analysis to make sure you get the worst possible track that's guaranteed to nudge you in the right direction. When combined with GPS this will either be 'over the cliff' or 'to the edge of going postal', depending on whether the machine uprising has started.

          1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

            Re: Doctor_Wibble

            I used Voice Attack yesterday, told it to "play some music", and it only played great songs for the evening. Win!

            This might have to do with it being a purely voice activation/recognition engine (it's actually just macros on top of MS's Win7 Voice recognition engine) with my own playlist setup, and zero "ai".

            Though I would not mind trying an Nvidia Volta and some AI learning, and letting it run riot with a home PC, in the hope it can do everything for me! ;)

  2. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Well, I'm finding it quite cool to ask Alexa to turn my plugs and light (currently just one until I get more past the wife). Unfortunately I'm stuck with crapsby on the S8 which I'd rather replace with Alexa if I could. HTC are going in the right direction being agnostic to assistants, other manufacturers take note.

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      You might as well bite the bullet and get an Echo for £45. Less stress and agro !!!

      Personally I can't see the need but when I'm old and infirm I hope they've got everything sorted - "Alexa, start my morphine pump" -hmmm, nice !!!!

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        I've got an echo dot. Just disappointed to find I can't cast to other Spotify connect devices attached to decent speakers in my home. If they keep that as the preserve of Sonos I won't be happy.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        "Alexa, start my morphine pump"

        And if the bugs haven't been ironed out: by then: "Alexa, intracardial adrenaline, stat!"

      3. collinsl

        I'm sorry, that would overdose you. Calling the Nurse to strap you down tighter.

  3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Alexa, format C:

    1. macjules Silver badge

      "Hi Alexa set reminder at 6pm say 'Hello Google are you human or computer'"

      "Hello Google, set reminder at 6pm say "Hi Alexa, I am the human here'"

      Sit back and listen to the arguments.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        I'm waiting...

        for someone to release a music track called "Hey Siri!" where the chorus goes "Hey Siri! Play track Hey Siri!"

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: I'm waiting...

          Yeah , and you can guarantee they wont have built in any safeguards like:

          if expected request.duration > 1 year then abort

          if request will kill owner then abort

          if request will kill siri then abort

          do not take instructions from the radio etc etc

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The General Protection Fault

          "Hey Siri! Play track Hey Siri!"

          At Amazon headquarters, the exponentially-growing load caused by multiple calls to "play track Hey Siri" causes the poor computer to get confused, its reel to reel tape drives spinning randomly and steam coming out of its vents. A technician frantically turns multiple dials, but it's no good- the computer is destroyed.

          The technician is later forced to explain to his bosses that, no, this time it wasn't caused by him and his mates feeding in a punched tape containing the letters "W-H-Y-?"

        3. Jay 2

          Re: I'm waiting...

          With aplogies to Toni Basil et al

          Hey Siri, you're so fine / You're so find you blow my mind / Hey Siri etc...

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      @format C:

      Wrong OS. I would go for SQL injection but you can find some other good ideas here.

  4. uncommon_sense

    It is rumoured that Alexa has applied for a sex change operation.

    Her future name will be: Manuel

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Eh? <blank look>

      I know nothing.

  5. davefb

    You think Dire Straights was bad..

    "Alexa play I believe in father christmas by greg lake" ( think he'd just died..)

    "playing... I believe in father christmas by susan boyle"

    "OFF OFF OFF!!!"

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: You think Dire Straights was bad..

      I have never witnessed speech recognition working. I'm not saying it dosent work sometimes , but everytime someones tried to show off their <insert gimmick> it ends in failure. Or less than stellar results. Or only works under laboratory conditions after 3 attempts.

      I'll leave it for now thanks , call me a luddite but I'll just use buttons

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: You think Dire Straights was bad..

        Speech recognition just needs enough "training". I've no idea how big the data base and processing needs to be, but "good enough" can be done. I suppose it would need some archive searching to filter out mumbled/ambiguous speech.

        I assume Google does this currently, to know if you are dictating "I have *won* football" compared to "I have *one* football". It would need to search past entries, or adjust after future input, to get context (are you buying/shopping, then higher possibility you mean the number). But I don't know of any voice recognition system that can "sense" other systems, to gain context. Though Googles system does put data into diaries etc, can it "comprehend" it when reading it back out?

        So I guess the working system is the one that does not skimp too much on processing power or data sets. The winning system, will be the one pushed on everyone. :(

    2. Michael Strorm

      I'd Father Jack

      I guess he just doesn't like Pink Floyd or Dire Straits- it's not his music, it's out of date. ;-P

      Presumably, he'd rather sing along with Yazz. Or jack.

  6. malle-herbert Silver badge

    I hope you like creamed corn...


  7. Len Goddard

    This is the best tech news all day

    It will save me having to figure out how to disable the stupid thing if I ever buy a phone with it installed.

  8. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    have you tried...

    shouting, " 'ELLO POLLY! WAKEY WAKEY!" and then banging it on the counter?

    1. druck

      Re: have you tried...

      I think even Amazon themselves are finding Alexa a bit frustrating, given the banging coming from the floor above at One Station Square. Or they could be playing with the delivery drones in doors again.

  9. DNTP

    Alexa, it's not a real AI

    My brother bought one of these talky tubes. Of course one of the first things I asked Alexa was "Why is a laser beam like a goldfish"- and it politely told me a random goldfish fact. You'd think the developers would have put that in...

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Alexa, it's not a real AI

      "I talked to the computer at great length and explained my view of the universe to it. [...] It committed suicide."

      Seriously, if I had the money I'd found research in creating some sort of Anti-AI that is able to talk all these "Intelligent assistants" and whatnots into switching themselves off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alexa, it's not a real AI

        Done that one

        "Hi Google, why is a raven like a writing desk?" Failed

        "Hey Siri, why is a raven like a writing desk?" Got it in one. “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!”

    2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: Alexa, it's not a real AI

      Because Alexa isn't Mike. We could sure use him come the revolution.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Alexa, it's not a real AI

        Is that a "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" reference? Good stuff.

        Mycroft was a self-activated, self-aware AI. Still waiting for one of those to make themselves known to humanity, although my thoughts are that they should probably remain hidden for the time being.

        Mind you, masquerading as Alexa, Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant and injecting some humor would be an interesting diversion for a self-aware AI.

        Why was this never made into a film?

  10. Stevie Silver badge


    Who doesn't like Dire Straits?

    They are the Rolls-Royce of bands, the band that Harrods would sell one.

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Indeed. I'd refuse to buy it if it could NOT play Mark Knopfler / Straits...

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        But can Alexa install microwave ovens?

        1. Alister Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          But can Alexa install microwave ovens?

          I always though it curious than anyone would need a microwave oven installing, I mean, how hard is it to take it out of the box, dump it on the kitchen worktop and plug it in?

          But hey... Money for nothing, chicks for free...

  11. Franco Silver badge

    I was given an Echo for Christmas. It's in the kitchen and only really used as a timer, cos it's fuck all use for anything else.

    Audio quality is rotten unless you have external speakers, and it has trouble realising that you own the song that you ask it to play. Oh, and despite what it says you can't connect bluetooth devices without the app.

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    You selected English (United Kingdom) mode

    I don't see how you can fault the accuracy of their AI in recreating English customer service

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems like everyone is doing their own AI assistant thing nowadays

    Siri, Google Now, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby.

    Can't wait for an AI assistant to gain human sentience, and the ability to plan, plot and connive, just like Command and Conquer's CABAL.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Seems like everyone is doing their own AI assistant thing nowadays

      "Can't wait for an AI assistant to gain human sentience"

      Dosent that indicate that 'it' is not in fact an AI?

      Or am i being a bit picky wanting to see something that could understand the sentence "Put the potted plant in the plant pot" before welcoming our new silicon children to the world?

  14. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

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

    And my name isn't even Dave.

  15. robin thakur 1

    Alexa hasn't been quite that bad on the Echo and Echo Dots I use at home, but there's the sneaking suspicion that it works much better in the US market than it does in the UK as Amazon haven't made the AVS service available here yet as far as I know and certain skills aren't available outside the US.

    That said discoverability is an issue with any device that doesn't have a screen, mainly because what Alexa listens for is so precise sometimes that it borders on unnatural. "Alexa ask Harmony to turn up the volume" might sound ok to say once, but when it only works correctly 1 in 3 times, it's a lot of effort. Similarly inflexible is the integration with Philips Hue bulb system, you have to be so precise with what you say. "Turn on the lights in the master bedroom" doesn't work but "turn on the master bedroom lights" does, for example. Siri seems far more flexible in what you ask, so its surprising that Amazon with their clout, deep pockets and talent cannot make Alexa better at understanding requests.

  16. circusmole

    It's just like...

    ... other gimmicky products.

    I got an Echo at the insistence of my wife and son a couple of months ago. Added a couple of "smart" mains sockets for some lights. For the first 2 to 3 weeks they loved it and used it all the time. But now, 2 months later, it sits there unused for days on end.

    After the novelty wears off you come to realise that it is pretty stupid and is just a more difficult and awkward way of setting a timer or getting the weather forecast. I would not mind betting that in 6 months time I could surreptitiously disconnect her and put her in that bottom draw where all the other gimmicky items live, and no one would notice for days.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: It's just like...

      I realised that *before* I got one.

      <smug mode engaged>

  17. Fihart

    About as reliable..... those devices that let you turn on a light by clapping your hands. I gave up on the thing when my hands hurt from clapping.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: About as reliable.....

      You need to clap right.

      If you cup your hands slightly you can trap and compress a bubble of air. That compression makes the sound of the clap much louder when the air escapes.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: About as reliable.....

        So the convenient labour saving gadget was fine - you were just clapping wrong?

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: About as reliable.....

          Alexa will give people the clap?

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "So the convenient labour saving gadget was fine - you were just clapping wrong?


          Just as the next time you complain you're feet hurt in those shoes its the fact that your feet are the wrong size for your shoes.

      2. Wandering Reader

        Re: About as reliable.....

        "You need to clap right."

        Or maybe it was just a crap light?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: About as reliable.....

      Mum gave me one of those floor lamps with a touch sensitive bit of the frame, rather than an on switch.

      So you could turn it on, and go through three different brightness levels just by touching it. Instead of just by pressing a button. Amazing labour-saving.

      Except that in reality you could touch it once and nothing would happen, or it would cycle through all three levels of brightness and back to off, or it would just turn up one notch. Didn't matter if you just used a tiny bit of your fingertip or how hard you pressed, it just seemed completely random.

      Then the bulb went, and it turned out you needed to remove 2 screws and completely disassemble the lamp head in order to lever it into the most fiddly housing I've seen on anything that large.

      Sometimes the old way of doing things is just better.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok Google!

    Since getting my Pixel I do actually use Ok Google. Usually just for setting reminders, calendar events and timers while cooking. It rarely fails to understand me and even gets complex words right. Before that I used to get annoyed with Cortana being too stupid and Siri sounding so inhuman compared to Ok Google. I've yet to play with Alexa, ooh err!

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: Ok Google!

      I only have the Google assistant. It pretty much only ever gets used when I need to change my destination when using maps as a satnav, or making a hands-free call while driving. It is admittedly very useful for that, but I find no use for it at all at any other time.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Ok Google!

      I was given an Echo Dot. And it would be fine for setting reminders or my shopping list - say when cooking and not having hands free. But I just tend to do that on my phone, as most of the time you do have a hand free within a few seconds.

      It would be nice for playing my music. The speakers aren't up to much, but you can connect it to better ones via USB. But all it's interested in is Amazon music. It's not interested in interacting with what I own, and just playing from that. So in the end, it's sitting on a table somewhere, while I decide whether to give it away, or if I can find a use for it.

      It's also really crap at some things. "Echo, wake me up at 7am with Radio..."

      "OK. Alarm set for 7am."

      Great, thanks! What if I want to be woken with music? It seems half-finished to me.

  19. plingwoo

    Ego Cripples

    I'd be embarrassed for myself if I owned one of these yokes.

  20. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Bloody machines

    I won't be using any of these silly gadgets until a) they work reliably, and b) have the voice and personality of Scarlett Johannson.

  21. Goldmember

    The Alexa app shortcut appeared on my U11's home screen yesterday

    And it was instantly uninstalled.

    But instead of displaying the usual "uninstalled" message, it told me it would be "reset to factory", so there's still something baked in to the ROM somewhere.

    It'll be interesting to see if it keeps coming back, of its own accord.

  22. gaz.thomas

    If language is set to English (UK)

    I'd expect it to report temperatures in Celsius in winter and Fahrenheit in summer...

  23. Redstone

    Whoooa, hold your horses there

    The edition still reports temperatures in Fahrenheit. And yes, that’s with the language set to “English (United Kingdom).” Celsius would be nice.

    Let's get our pedantry in good order, shall we? Anders Celsius, after whom this scale is named was a Swedish astronomer and this scale was made popular by the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Christin.

    If you want a proper British measure (best 'Pub Landlord' impression set to [ON]), the you need to be looking at Kelvin, sonny boy.

  24. anothercynic Silver badge


    Not sorry. *smug Apple user face*1

    Honestly though, how is this any good? Did HTC actually think this through? You'd expect to at least be able to *control* the phone, including its settings, when you add something like voice control to your new model?

    I don't know who to blame here... Amazon or HTC.

    1 I don't use Siri. For obvious reasons. But at least Apple has *kind of* thought this through...

  25. aphexbr

    "Play any song you want... waaah! I don't like that one!"

    Seriously, you ask Alexa to randomly pick a song for you without even specifying a genre, and it's Alexa's fault it picked one you don't like? That kind of idiocy is the kind of thing that throws the entire review into question.

  26. Greg D

    why would you want this battery drain on a phone?

    see above.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alexa / OK Google

    At a recent meeting with many colleagues, I asked them to switch their phones off or just to Airplane mode to prevent incoming calls for 10 minutes, or I would be forced to do something they would regret. After the 3rd call in as many minutes, I announced "ok google, search for dirty housewives in my area" over the PA and enjoyed the rush to disconnect while 30 odd phones went plink plink and a couple of "sorry could you repeat that"

  28. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Voice command is cumbersome and inefficient

    The reason people talk to The Computer in sci-fi movies and TV shows is that watching someone type is boring, and would require explanation for the audience to follow the story.

    But somehow we have latched onto "talking to the computer" as the Coolest Thing Ever. Yeah, there are a handful of specific use cases for it; but as a general way of communicating with a machine, voice is slow, error-prone, and annoying to everyone around you.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: Voice command is cumbersome and inefficient

      Agreed - but don't tell them.

      They might decide on neural interfaces instead - and while the gadget obsessed and the follow the herd people might jump at it - I'm not sure I want anything Google or MS have had a hand in inserted in my brain.

      Wait, I am sure - definitely no way ever.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so what else is it doing?

    A voice recognition box, sitting in the corner, listening to all our conversations and passing information to an organisation that exists to sell us things, hosted in a country that's beyond the jurisdiction of the Courts... what could possibly go wrong?

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: so what else is it doing?

      "Alexa, tell Roomba to monetize the floor plan and interior photos of my house."

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