By now, you’ve heard the story that our new housemate, Alexa, is fallible. Inexplicably, there are reports Amazon Echo devices are breaking into unsolicited laughter to the amazement, astonishment, and even horror of their owners.
While some people are shocked at this news, anyone involved in software development probably broke out their own quiet knowing smiles. When you’re dealing with new products and new code, anything can happen – and often does.
Amazon quickly admitted it had a problem, and immediately tried to start figuring out why some Alexa devices were suffering from spontaneous laughter (especially during this news cycle).
For Alexa doubters, this bizarre development reinforces their skepticism about these devices. Still, smart speakers – led by a wide margin by Amazon Echo models – are proliferating in a major way.
I was staring over our research maven, Jason Hollins’ shoulder, over the weekend poring over the preliminary results of Techsusrvey 2018 – 64,000+ respondents strong.
Our data shows smart speaker penetration has nearly doubled – in just one year. In last year’s survey, 11% owned an Amazon, Google, or similar product. This year, we’re now looking at 21% of our total sample. That’s impressive growth for any breakout device.
But since their debut, many have expressed all sorts of concerns about smart speakers – privacy issues and eavesdropping worries among them.
To be surprised about a glitch or even some sort of software hack is pure naivety. Even the most expensive devices, gadgets, and platforms experience fails, including iPhone crashes, Netflix buffering , and SiriusXM outages. And from time to time, radio stations even go off the air.
And there’s a reason why there are all those app updates on your phone, as well as those inconvenient system software updates. Developers are putting out digital fires, not always easy to anticipate. And some days, it’s one right after another.
At jācapps, we’ve had a great run with our mobile apps for radio, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues that crop up when new phones hit the market, as well as other unexpected glitches.
Consider that smartphones are used while people are on the go, traveling at fast speeds from cell tower to cell tower. Meantime, telecommunications companies may be throttling bandwidth. Yet, we expect these mini-computers to work seamlessly – all the time.
When you think about it, most new products require tweaking and fine-tuning. Including brand new radio stations. Oftentimes, we sign them on jockless and commercial-free, while the programming team gets feedback, conducts research, and refines the sound over the course of many weeks.
But with technology we expect perfection.
And smart speakers fall under the Artificial Intelligence banner, so when a device gets stupid or finicky, it’s news. Some people are creeped out by laughing Alexa. We’ve seen enough sci-fi movies where the machines or computers run amok, so when it appears to be happening in your kitchen or den, that’s a bit disturbing.
Twitter: “Amazon’s Alexa is acting up and spontaneously laughing for no reason.”
Most people: “Just a malfunction.”
Me: “GHOSTS!!” 👻
— Jonny Loquasto (@JQuasto) March 7, 2018
Is Alexa laughing at us, or with us?
— Frankie (@franke) March 8, 2018
Realistically, things are going to happen, machines and software are going to hiccup, and as hard as it may be to accept, we just have to be a little patient while the genius coders debug their brilliant innovations so we can get back to ordering diapers, playing “Jeopardy,” or listening to our favorite radio stations.
Otherwise, Alexa will get the last laugh.
BREAKING: As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, Amazon announced it had diagnosed and addressed Alexa’s random giggling issues. According to The New York Times, the problem is that Amazon Echo technology sometimes hears the invocation, “Alexa, laugh,” when it fact the user is saying something else. So, they’ve changed the command to a more complex, “Alexa, can you laugh?”
For radio broadcasters struggling to come up with just the right invocation to trigger the station’s stream, this has been no laughing matter.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.