We’ve all heard stories about the funny, crazy, or otherwise entertaining things the world’s most popular virtual assistants are capable of. Siri can famously give you directions to the nearest body disposal site, whereas Alexa can fart on command. However, as one Echo owner discovered on Sunday, some of the fun activities these AI helpers are known for can have disastrous outcomes.
Echo owner Kristin Livdahl took to Twitter on Sunday to share an odd story with the world: that very day, her 10-year-old child asked Alexa for a challenge to perform. Instead of suggesting something relatively-harmless, like answering a riddle, solving a math problem, or performing some minor physical stunt, Alexa advised them to “plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”
We probably don’t have to tell you that this sort of ‘challenge’ is incredibly dangerous to try. Pennies are conductive, so sticking one anywhere near a piece of metal plugged into a live electrical outlet could pose a serious risk to one’s life. Naturally, most adults that see this “challenge” would chuckle and shrug it off, but young children don’t always possess that same restraint or knowledge of potential consequences.
Even if they do, they might be tempted to assume the challenge wouldn’t be offered if it wasn’t safe.
To be clear, we’re not saying Alexa somehow went rogue here and maliciously chose a harmful challenge. The virtual assistant pulls most of its results from the web, and it just so happened to pick a dangerous one in this case. Internet sleuths determined that the assistant grabbed the challenge from an article that was discussing its dangers, so the AI simply wasn’t able to parse the broader context.
Amazon later confirmed that the incident was legitimate, and they’ve already taken “swift action” to fix it. Judging by Twitter replies to Livdahl’s original post, it sounds like Amazon has completely disabled the “tell me a challenge” feature for now, which is probably for the best.