Alexa tells 10-year-old girl to touch live electrical socket with penny

Posted:
in General Discussion
A child requesting a challenge from an Amazon Alexa device was told to "plug in a phone charger about halfway, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs."

Alexa is a smart assistant on the Amazon Echo
Alexa is a smart assistant on the Amazon Echo


The dangerous search result appeared thanks to something called "the penny challenge" going viral on TikTok sometime in the year prior. Alexa will answer general inquiries with a web search, but there is no guarantee where that result will come from.

"We were doing some physical challenges, like laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a teacher on YouTube earlier," said the child's mother on Twitter. "Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one."

According to a reportfrom the BBC, the mother was present and was able to tell Alexa to stop when she heard what it was saying. However, she did assert that her daughter was smart enough to know better than perform such a dangerous task.

OMFG My 10 year old just asked Alexa on our Echo for a challenge and this is what she said. pic.twitter.com/HgGgrLbdS8

-- Kristin Livdahl (@klivdahl)


"Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers," said Amazon in a statement. "As soon as we became aware of this error, we took swift action to fix it."

Smart assistants like Google and Alexa are well known for having various skills that access information on the mostly unfiltered web. While there seems to be some form of trusted sources for these devices, it is apparent that some bad actors still get through.

Read on AppleInsider
patchythepirate
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 50
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
  • Reply 2 of 50
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
    With modern plugs your probably right, but I just looked in my drawer and found an old plug (probably more than 10 years old but still in good nick) that could be shorted with a penny (need to be an old penny) new pennies are too small but a 10 pence piece would work . This is from a UK perspective - I don't know about other countries.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 50
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 1,022member
    OMG, Kristin, you’re a shitty parent!
  • Reply 4 of 50
    In Alexa’s defense, she actually was able to process a request and provide a result.
    bloggerblogRoderikusbaconstang
  • Reply 5 of 50
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,714member
    mac_dog said:
    OMG, Kristin, you’re a shitty parent!
    No, Alexa’s a shitty assistant!
    patchythepiratemuthuk_vanalingamlolliverbloggerblogBeatsdanhviclauyycbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 50
    There’s no way to verify this. Could be a moronic fabrication 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 50
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,462member
    mac_dog said:
    OMG, Kristin, you’re a shitty parent!
    Can’t tell if you’re being serious or not, but she was standing right next to her daughter when it happened, immediately shut Alexa down when it gave the answer, talked to her daughter about why it was wrong, notified Amazon about it, then notified news outlets so that other parents would be aware of the potential danger. Not seeing how any of that makes her shitty, tbo. In fact, I’m not seeing how she could have handled the situation any better. 
    thtpatchythepiratechiamuthuk_vanalingamgregoriusmlolliverfotoformatviclauyycdarkvaderwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 50
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,462member
    doal said:
    There’s no way to verify this. Could be a moronic fabrication 
    She took a picture of the screen with the answer. This article omits that information, but I read about it in a few other places before here. 
    gregoriusmlolliverdanhdarkvaderwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 50
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
    You can absolutely do this in the US. Our plugs are a terrible design.
    patchythepiratechiaJFC_PAlolliverbloggerblogwelshdogwilliamlondonfastasleepbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 50
    mretondo said:
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
    You can absolutely do this in the US. Our plugs are a terrible design.
    I haven’t tried it but I also don’t see why it would be impossible. And the way kurtvdpoel is describing it is not what the article is saying. The article is saying to insert the plug halfway and then touch a penny to the prongs that are still sticking out. I haven’t tried it so I don’t know what the result would be but you absolutely can insert a plug halfway and touch a penny to the prongs.
  • Reply 11 of 50
    Well maybe it would be impossible with a plug that has a transformer attached or something but I mean it wouldn’t be impossible for a very simple plug with a very minimal amount of rubber attached like quite a few plugs are in the U.S.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 50
    davidwdavidw Posts: 1,741member
    mretondo said:
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
    You can absolutely do this in the US. Our plugs are a terrible design.
    I haven’t tried it but I also don’t see why it would be impossible. And the way kurtvdpoel is describing it is not what the article is saying. The article is saying to insert the plug halfway and then touch a penny to the prongs that are still sticking out. I haven’t tried it so I don’t know what the result would be but you absolutely can insert a plug halfway and touch a penny to the prongs.
    It not that it's impossible to touch either of the live prongs  (UK uses 230V os both prong are live) with a penny, but that it's nearly impossible to get a shock when doing so.

    That's because since the mid eighties, UK plugs live prongs were required to be insulated half way from the plug to the tip. When the tip of the prongs make contact with the live contacts in the socket, only the insulated part of the prong is exposed outside of the socket. Unless the insulation on the prong is compromised, there's no way that any foreign object can come in contact with the bare metal of a live prong. Very clever design.

    Even more clever is the design of the socket. The socket has a "shutter" that prevents anyone from sticking a paper clip or small screwdriver into one of the hole for the live prong and touch the live contacts. This "shutter" opens to allow the plug prongs to make contact with the live contacts when the ground prong is inserted part way into the socket. 

    I knew this about 15 years ago when my sister in-law was married to an Englishman that travel back home frequently and I inquired why the UK plug in his electrical adapter travel kit was so big, compared to that of the US plug.

    Plus there's a fuse built into the UK plug.  
    gregoriusmcoolfactorkurtvdpoelbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 50
    The article left out the fact that it was a general internet query, not a skill, and Alexa even stated that by saying, "Here is what I found on the Internet", and unfortunately, the top story of the query was the article warning people about the dumb TikTok challenge.  Remember, these challenges are coming from kids that eat Tide Pods.  

    Siri does the same thing.  When Siri has no idea what you are asking, Siri will query the internet.  And Siri queries the internet for 90% of the things you ask it.  There is no skill, and this has nothing to do with Alexa.  Any AI would pull the same query from the internet, including a google search.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 50
    thttht Posts: 4,722member
    Well maybe it would be impossible with a plug that has a transformer attached or something but I mean it wouldn’t be impossible for a very simple plug with a very minimal amount of rubber attached like quite a few plugs are in the U.S.
    It will work for any plug of any variety as long as the prongs are exposed and they have closed the circuit. You are shorting the circuit when you connect the two prongs. This is eminently doable with a penny for all 110/120V plugs in the USA as the prongs are not insulated, and they are only about 15 mm apart. You don't have to completely insert the plug for it to go live. Maybe not half way, but definitely enough room for 2 or 3 pennies. Virtually all plugs in the USA do not have the prongs insulated halfway. It's bare metal. Even the 240V 30A 3-prong plugs for ovens and dryers are bare all the way, and can be bridged with a suitably large and conductive coin, or wire, whatever conductive material.

    It's your run-of-the-mill utter stupidity challenge, like the laundry detergent pod swallowing challenge a few years ago. It's goes to show that social media, Youtube, and search engines only have post hoc ethics or safety nets built into them. Ie, they are only filtered or actionable when they have lost in court or perceived to have gov't action from some stupid content they host and amplify. They are pure popularity-amplification algorithms, with zero understanding of content. It's just counting page hits based on keyword and trying to get that page more hits by broadcasting that page to as many people they think will click on it as possible. And they definitely know what contents get a lot of hit, know how to design an algorithm to assign the right keyword meta data to pages, so on and so forth.

    So, Amazon's search engine got a search engine hit on something that involved a challenge that had a lot of views, never mind that it was something so utterly stupid, so unethical for the company to do, and so super-litigable. The page or content did not include enough safety or social safety keywords from the start to filter it out. They will always amplify first, and wait until someone makes it a problem before stopping the amplification.

    Really, I think the only realistic course of action for social media amplification is for people to sue them for everything. Everything has to be challenged and continuously.
    darbus69welshdogbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 50
    Siri: “i don’t know what a challenge is, please define challenge”
    baconstang
  • Reply 16 of 50
    mretondo said:
    It is physically impossible to insert a plug in a socket and touch the life metal parts, not even with a penny. Plug and socket are constructed that way.  Both have to follow strict standards. If both are constructed as imposed by those standards, nothing could happen to the girl. 
    That’s not to say Alexa should have such a challenge.  That’s not acceptable behaviour for a smart speaker. But the little girl was never in danger. Not even when she had done what Alex instructed her to do. 
    You can absolutely do this in the US. Our plugs are a terrible design.
    Yes we can do that in the US, but I prefer the convenience of US plugs over European’s overly complex and large plugs
    mbenz1962williamlondonrandominternetpersondarkvader
  • Reply 17 of 50
    doal said:
    There’s no way to verify this. Could be a moronic fabrication 
    The verification is right there in Kristin's tweet, showing where Alexa drew the information from. It takes you right to that website page where this "challenge" is published.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 50

     UK plugs may be massive by comparison, but they are massively safer by design. Genius design.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 50
    tht said:
    Well maybe it would be impossible with a plug that has a transformer attached or something but I mean it wouldn’t be impossible for a very simple plug with a very minimal amount of rubber attached like quite a few plugs are in the U.S.
    ...
    So, Amazon's search engine got a search engine hit on something that involved a challenge that had a lot of views, never mind that it was something so utterly stupid, so unethical for the company to do, and so super-litigable. The page or content did not include enough safety or social safety keywords from the start to filter it out. They will always amplify first, and wait until someone makes it a problem before stopping the amplification.


    It's not as simple as that. The web page has plenty of warnings, but how the content was composed within the HTML markup, Alexa grabbed a "summary" of the page and extracted that as the main page content. Scraping web pages this way is exactly how search engines like Google work, too. They grab a summary snippet, and it just so happened that this challenge's text was written into the page in such a way that it became the summary.

    Amazon probably "fixed" this issue by blacklisting that particular extraction, rather than changing how Alexa works, although it's also possible that blacklisting is a corrective teaching moment for Alexa. Alexa would need to re-analyze the entire web page to learn "why" this was an incorrect response. Context is important.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 50
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    Good thing this wasn’t Apple. Would have been a huge media circus.
    baconstangwatto_cobra
Sign In or Register to comment.