As amazing as Amazon’s Alexa may be, if there’s one thing the Echo’s virtual assistant is not, it’s loyal. In a scenario that rather epitomizes the sometimes overly digitized 21st-century world, NPR discovered that one of its Listen Up segments about the Echo managed to trigger the system in a few listeners’ homes. Because when it comes down to it, Alexa isn’t really listening to you — rather, she’s just waiting for someone to say her name so that she can jump to fulfill a task.
Earlier in March, NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast a story about how the Amazon Echo and Alexa were turning an increasing number of American homes into “smart” homes. But then, something unexpected happened: Alexa piped up in response to the story. And it wasn’t just one Alexa — it was a whole lot of her.
In an update, show host Rachel Martin noted, “Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alexa heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this — let’s just say we both enjoyed the story.”
Much of this, of course, is a function of the Amazon Echo’s “always on” setting, which has raised security concerns in the past. But while this isn’t necessarily a safety concern, it’s certainly a bit annoying. After all, it’s not just NPR that has the ability to get Alexa to do things her owners don’t necessarily intend. As Quartz notes, TV programs have also been known to catalyze Alexa, and even Amazon’s customer support team is aware of the ongoing issue (which makes it seem like it’s a bit more common than we may think).
So if Alexa is participating this much in our lives unbeknownst to us, it seems that she should be helping out a bit more, right? NPR certainly thinks so. In a cheeky conclusion, NPR’s Martin jokes “Alexa, listen up. We want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?”
Just make sure your bank account didn’t unknowingly make another sizable donation to your local public radio station.