CLOSE
Amazon
Amazon

What Happens When Someone Named Alexa Buys an Amazon Echo?

Amazon
Amazon

Ever since Robby the Robot first popped onto the screen in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet—and likely well before—humans have preferred to personalize their artificial intelligence by naming it. Apple labeled its voice recognition software Siri; IBM’s supercomputer was dubbed Watson. More recently, Amazon has been peddling its Echo smart home device that responds to voice commands by using the name "Alexa." To tell it to order more laundry detergent or turn down the thermostat, users usually begin by addressing it by the company’s preprogrammed name.

But what happens when someone in your home is also named Alexa? Won’t things get confusing or annoying, and quickly?

Per The Wall Street Journal [PDF], the answer is a resounding yes. With Alexa being the 39th most popular girl’s name of 2006, households across the country have been scowling at their Echos in frustration. At the Sussman home in New York, the Journal reported, college-aged daughter Alexa is often confused for Amazon’s Alexa. When her father once asked his offspring for some water, Echo perked up and offered to order 24 bottles of Fiji.

The device also likes to chime in whenever it hears a name that bears a vague resemblance. If a television character or human blurts out “Alexa” or “Alex,” it might try to obey whatever follows.

Fortunately, the Echo has a little-known feature that can resolve the problem for affected households. With the Echo’s smartphone control panel app, the device’s “wake word”—the word it recognizes in order to begin paying attention to commands—can be changed to “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “computer.” If you don't like any of those, you could always just change your human’s name instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Google
arrow
Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios