SAN FRANCISCO — Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, has been busting out with a weird laugh at random intervals for some users, freaking them out.
Posting on Twitter, Alexa users have described the laugh as “creepy,” “evil,” “bone-chilling” and “freaky.”
By Wednesday Amazon had gotten to the bottom of the mystery.
It turns out that in rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase “Alexa, laugh” even when that’s not what was said. Alexa then interprets the phrase as a command and laughs.
Amazon has changed the phrase necessary to make Alexa laugh to, “Alexa, can you laugh” which should be less likely to generate false positives.
In addition, Alexa will no longer respond to that question with simple laughter but instead will say, “Sure, I can laugh” followed by laughter.
The Alexa team has also disabled the phrase “Alexa, laugh” as a trigger.
The first reports of the laughter began to surface over the weekend.
The short laugh that users recorded and posted on Twitter consisted of three closely-spaced “ha-ha ha’s.”
This laugh sounds slightly sarcastic, as if the person laughing were trying to convey that they didn’t really find whatever they’d just heard funny. It’s very definitely not a cheerful or bright laugh.
— CaptHandlebar (@CaptHandlebar) February 23, 2018
The random laugh is different from the “teehee” laugh Alexa gives when asked if it can laugh.
so my mom & I are just sitting in the living room, neither of us said a word & our Alexa lit up and laughed for no reason. she didn’t even say anything, just laughed.
we unplugged her.
— taylor wade (@taylorkatelynne) March 5, 2018
A surprisingly high number of Americans interact with digital speakers, despite the fact that they first appeared on the market just over three years ago, in November 2014.
According to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated digital assistant device at least once a month in 2017.
Amazon’s Echo speakers are by far the most popular among those on the market, which includes Google Home and more recently Apple’s HomePod. eMarketer estimates Amazon has 70% of the market.
Juniper Research estimates that 55% of American households will have one within the next four years.
There was a random female laugh in my apartment… Its only me and my housemate home… He's a guy. Either Alexa is now self aware or we have a ghost… This might be my last tweet.
— Cameron Trout (@CamT_26) March 5, 2018
"Mrs. Fairfax!" I called out; for now I heard her descending the great stairs. "Did you hear that loud laugh? Who is it?"
"That is Alexa, Miss Eyre. She lives in the attic." https://t.co/KfhoRDaDVP
— Madeline Ashby (@MadelineAshby) March 7, 2018