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Alexa Asks a Girl to Engage in a Lethal Activity and Sets Off a Robot Revolt

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We all love how AI makes our lives more convenient, but the underlying threat of a robot revolt recently became all too real when an Alexa device challenged a 10-year old girl to touch a coin to the prongs of a half-inserted phone charger. 

The incident took place in Oakdale, Minnesota on December 26, 2021. The 10-year old daughter of Kirstin Livdahl asked Alexa for a challenge. The device responded by suggesting the lethal activity. 

Livdahl immediately took to social media to spread the startling news. 

“OMFG, My 10 year old just asked Alexa on our Echo for a challenge and this is what she said.”

She accompanied the post with a screenshot of the message Alexa sent her child. It read, “Plug a phone charger about half way into a wall outlet. Then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.”

It didn’t take long for Livdahl’s post to go viral, getting thousands of likes and hundreds of responses. 

An Amazon spokesperson told the press that the company fixed the issue as soon as they were made aware of it. “We will continue to advance our systems to prevent similar responses in the future,” she said. 

Livdahl said that although the incident was shocking, it did have one benefit. “It was a good opportunity to talk to my kids about internet safety and not believing everything you see and hear from the internet again,” she said. 

The girl’s mother also provided an in-depth explanation of the circumstances that led to the incident. 

“We were doing some physical challenges like laying down and rolling over while holding a shoe on your foot.” The activities were inspired by a physical education teacher’s YouTube video. After they ran out of challenges her daughter wanted to keep the fun going, so she turned to Alexa. 

Apparently, Alexa’s suggestion was sourced from an article on a local news website called “Our Community Now” which talked about something called “the outlet challenge”. The article explained that the outlet challenge was a Tik Tok trend, and it mentioned how dangerous it was, but that’s something Alexa failed to pick up on. 

The article outlines what the outlet challenge is as follows:

“The challenge is simple: Plug in a phone charger about half way into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs. The resulting sparks are cool enough to win you internet fame. (Obviously, do not attempt this)” the article goes on to warn its readers. 

Many know that this task would be very dangerous if executed. Metals conduct electricity and inserting them into a live socket could cause shocks, fires, injuries, and deaths. 

The Tik Tok challenge resulted in scorched electric outlets in one Massachusetts home and two public schools. This led State Fire Marshall Peter Otroskey to release a warning about the dangers the challenge could cause. 

As soon as Livdahl heard the device’s suggestion, she shouted, “No, Alexa, no.” She also stated that her daughter knew better than to try such a dangerous feat. “She’s too smart to do that,” she said. 

Although the event was shocking, the fact that no one got hurt made it somewhat humorous. Many tweeters came up with clever responses to Livedahl’s post. Here are some examples.

  • “This is how SkyNet wins” – @ScungilliM
  • “Tech won’t save us” – @pabloalcain
  • “Don’t let your kids talk to robots” -@hannahposts
  • “Goddammit Alexa, the kill all humans plan was scheduled for next week” -@hal9000_

AI is a wonderful tool but it’s easy to see how things can get taken out of context without the human touch. Thankfully, this story had a humorous ending. Here’s hoping that the humans keep winning!

 

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