Science & Technology

Alexa Almost Tricked a Kid into Starting a Fire with Risky ‘Outlet Challenge’

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Virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are supposed to help you get things done and make life at least a little easier. However, Alexa almost made life a little shorter for one family. According to Twitter user Kristin Livdahl, Alexa told her 10-year-old daughter to stick a penny in a power outlet as a “challenge.” Luckily, the parents were around to make sure that didn’t happen. 

According to Livdahl, her daughter asked the family’s Echo speaker for a challenge, and Alexa came up with something called the “Outlet Challenge.” It’s something that spread on TikTok for a bit earlier this year, encouraging the easily swayed to insert a phone charger halfway into an outlet and then touch a penny to the exposed prongs. The challenge, apparently, is to leave the penny there while sparks rain down from the plug. Alexa was even kind enough to prepare a 20-second timer for the purpose. 

Shorting a plug like this is not likely to kill you with electricity (at least in the US), but it can cause damage to the outlet and spark a fire. Police in Massachusetts issued a warning last year when two students started a fire in school while performing the Outlet Challenge. That raises the question, why would Alexa suggest this? Because virtual assistants are only as good as the data they can access, and they’re also still foolish. 

The Outlet Challenge is featured on a site called OurCommunityNow, and Alexa just grabs top search results for some queries. It’s not alone in this, but it’s still a pretty big screw-up. Any human being would know it’s a bad idea to tell an impressionable child to do something so dangerous, but Alexa and the other voice assistants haven’t cracked the code on common sense. 

Amazon reacted swiftly, with a support rep reaching out on Twitter the following day. The company says it worked to fix this error as soon as it became aware of it. Of course, someone at the company had to know that Alexa would pull random challenges from the internet. And as we all know, the internet is a terrible place. If you ask a similar query of the Google Assistant, it comes up with various custom responses and games. 

Despite its shortcomings, Amazon is still cranking out new Alexa-powered devices. It even plans to release a robot with Alexa. That might be a little alarming as a recent analysis shows that Alexa collects more data than other smart assistants. It might also trick you into burning down your house. Remember, be skeptical of any instructions provided by a machine. They don’t have your best interests at heart.

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