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Why Alexa won’t have the last laugh

Alexa
Michael Björn 

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Category, topic & hashtags

The voice of laughter has been echoing ominously across the web for the last several days. But the reason why it has caused such uproar is not that it was the revengeful voice of some sort of real-life supervillain with a plan to wreak havoc on earth. Instead, it was the rather innocent voice of Alexa.

But now the laughter is gone. Amazon has, if not killed it, at least made sure that Alexa will never again laugh at what might be construed as her own volition. In reality, Alexa just takes commands. Amazon has explained that Alexa laughed when she thought she heard the phrase “Alexa, laugh”. But the thing is, even though people know she just takes commands, they very easily believe the opposite. So, in order to quell any rumors of a ghost in that machine, Amazon has now changed the activation phrase to “Alexa, can you laugh?” and forced her to respond with “Sure, I can laugh” before giving us that innocent yet dangerous little chuckle.

Do we feel better now that she won’t laugh at us? Do we feel safe again? Maybe, with her behavior, Alexa has pointed to a rather troublesome near-term future for voice assistants. Why do we get so scared of them?

Why our devices could seem spooky

The answer is simply that we humans are not good at dealing with unidentified counterparts. Is that a domesticated cow or an angry bull that will charge at you any moment? Always good to know! Hence, in our Ericsson ConsumerLab trend Uncanny communication, we are predicting that we will see more and more people getting downright scared of their own devices. When we stated that 50 percent of respondents said that not being able to tell the difference between human and machine would spook them out, we were thinking exactly about incidents like this.

And even though Alexa will never again laugh at you mysteriously, there will be more incidences ahead. Right now, the devices we use are quickly becoming more aware of what we are doing. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, there were several Android devices with similar “notches”as the iPhone X, and more will certainly appear during the spring.

Smartphones that are always watching

Although this may be an inevitable design compromise in the race for a total edge-to-edge display, putting in a notch will raise expectations of more functionality hidden there besides just the traditional camera. But having a bunch of sensors directed at users themselves will open up the field for a multitude of uncanny surprises when their phones start doing things seemingly unprompted.

Given that as many as 49 percent of respondents in our research said they would be spooked out by a smartphone that constantly watches their face, there is certainly room for surprises that will catch people off-guard.

Watch this space while trying to remember that your device is not a sentient being. And watch yourself getting spooked out nevertheless!

Check out our 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018


Go deeper inside Ericsson ConsumerLab’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 here, and let us know if you feel comfortable with technology that is constantly listening and interacting with you. Also, don’t miss out on Michael’s podcast with Bloomberg Markets’ Carol Massar and Cory Johnson on how artificial intelligence will impact our daily lives.

In case you missed it: Don’t forget to check out the podcast for our 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 and beyond, with Pernilla Jonsson, Head of Ericsson ConsumerLab and Michael Björn, Head of Research at ConsumerLab.

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