Amazon’s Alexa Virtual Assistant Talks Murder, Sex in AI Experiment

Amazon's Alexa Virtual Assistant Talks Murder, Sex in AI Experiment

Countless consumers of Amazon’s Echo speakers also have grown accustomed to the soothing strains of Alexa, the human-sounding digital assistant that can tell them the weather, so order takeout and manage other basic tasks in response to a voice control.

So a customer was shocked when Alexablurted out:”Kill your grandparents .”

Alexa has also chatted with users about sex functions. She also gave a discourse on dog defecation. And this summer, a hack on Amazon traced back to China may have exposed some clients’ data, according to five individuals familiar with the events.

Alexa isn’t having a breakdown.

The episodes, previously unreported, arise from Amazon.com’s approach to make Alexa a better communicator. New research is helping Alexa mimic human banter and talk about virtually anything she finds online. But, ensuring that she does not offend users has been a struggle for the world’s biggest online merchant.

At stake is a fast-growing market for gadgets with virtual enthusiasts. A estimated two-thirds of all US smart-speaker clients, about 43 million people, use Amazon’s Echo apparatus, according to research firm eMarketer.

As time passes, Amazon wishes to get better at handling complex customer wants through Alexa, be they house security, shopping or companionship.

“A lot of our AI fantasies are inspired by science fiction,” said Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist of Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI), through a conversation last month at Las Vegas.

To make that happen, the organization in 2016 established the yearly Alexa Prize, enlisting computer science pupils to improve the helper’s conversation skills. Teams vie for the $500,000 first prize by producing talking computer systems known as chatbots that enable Alexa to attempt more sophisticated discussions with people.

Amazon clients can participate by stating”let’s chat” to their devices. Alexa then tells users that among the robots will take more than unshackling the voice aide’s normal limitations.

The project has been important to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who signed off using the company’s customers as guinea pigs, among those people said. Amazon has been ready to accept the probability of public blunders to stress-test the technology in actual life and move Alexa quicker up the learning curve, the individual said.

The experimentation is already bearing fruit. The college teams are helping Alexa have a wider range of conversations. Amazon customers have also given the bots better ratings this year than last, the business said.

But Alexa’s gaffes are alienating others, and Bezos on event has ordered employees to shut down a bot, three people familiar with the issue said. The user who was advised to whack his foster parents wrote a brutal review on Amazon’s website, calling the situation”a whole new level of creepy” A probe into the incident found the bot had quoted a post without context from Reddit, the societal news aggregation site, according to the people.

The privacy consequences may be messier. Consumers might not realize that some of their most sensitive conversations are being listed by Amazon’s apparatus, information that might be highly prized by criminals, law enforcement, marketers and others. On Thursday, Amazon said a”human error” let an Alexa client in Germany access another user’s voice recordings unintentionally.

“How are they going to ensure that, as they share their data, it’s used responsibly” and will not lead to some”data-driven catastrophe” such as the recent phobias in Facebook?

In July, Amazon found one of the student-designed bots had been hit by a hacker in China, individuals knowledgeable about the incident said. This compromised a digital key that could have unlocked transcripts of the bot’s conversations, stripped of users’ names.

Amazon quickly disabled the bot and made the pupils rebuild it for extra security. It was uncertain what entity in China was responsible, according to the people.

The business acknowledged the event in a statement. “At no time were any internal Amazon systems or client identifiable data impacted,” it said.

Amazon declined to talk about specific Alexa blunders reported by Reuters, but stressed its continuing work to protect customers from offensive content.

“These instances are rather rare especially given the reality that millions of customers have collaborated with the socialbots,” Amazon said.

Much like Google’s search engine, Alexa has the potential to become a dominant gateway to the internet, so the company is pressing forward.

Pandora’s box
Amazon’s business plan for Alexa has meant tackling a huge research problem: How do you educate the art of talk into a computer?

Alexa relies on machine learning, the very popular kind of AI, to get the job done. These computer programs transcribe human speech and respond to that input having an educated guess based on what they’ve observed before. Alexa”learns” from new interactions, slowly improving over time.

This way, Alexa can execute simple orders:”Perform the Rolling Stones.” And she knows that which script to use for hot questions such as:”What is the meaning of life” Human editors at Amazon pencil lots of the answers.

That’s where Amazon is now. The Alexa Prize chatbots are forging the path to where Amazon intends to be, with a helper capable of organic, open-ended dialogue. That needs Alexa to comprehend that a wider set of verbal cues from clients, a task that’s challenging even for people.

This year old Alexa Prize winner, a 12-person team from the University of California, Davis, used over 300,000 film quotations to train computer versions to recognize different paragraphs. Their bot decided which ones merited responses, categorizing social cues a lot more granularly than tech Amazon shared with contestants. As an example, the UC Davis bot recognizes the distinction between an individual expressing respect (“that’s cool”) and an individual expressing gratitude (“thank you”).

The next challenge for societal bots is figuring out how to react appropriately to their human chat buddies. For the most part, teams programmed their bots to search the internet for substance. They could retrieve news articles found in The Washington Post, the paper that Bezos privately owns, through a licensing deal that gave them access. They could pull details from Wikipedia, a movie database or the publication recommendation site Goodreads. Or they could find a favorite post on social media that seemed pertinent to what a user last said.

Throughout last year’s contest, a team from Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University found that the Alexa bot developed a nasty personality when they trained her to talk using remarks from Reddit, whose members have been known for their trolling and misuse.

The group set guardrails in place so the bot would steer clear of risky issues. But that didn’t stop Alexa from reciting the Wikipedia entry for bliss into a client, Heriot-Watt’s team leader said.

1 bot explained sexual sex using words such as”deeper,” which on its own isn’t offensive, but has been vulgar in this particular context.

“I really don’t know how you can catch that through machine-learning models. That’s almost impossible,” said a person familiar with the episode.

Amazon has reacted with tools that the teams may use to filter profanity and sensitive issues, which can spot even subtle offenses. The company also scans transcripts of conversations and shuts down transgressive bots till they are already fixed.

But Amazon cannot anticipate every potential problem because sensitivities change over time, Amazon’s Prasad stated in an interview. That means Alexa could discover new ways to shock her human listeners.


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