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What Happens When Someone Named Alexa Buys an Amazon Echo?

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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.

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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
iStock
iStock

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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