Entry 743: So A Rabbi, Elon Musk and Alexa Walk into a Bar . . .

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot in common with the Tesla guy Elon Musk. I’m a bit short of his net worth, for instance, by six or seven zeroes (I’m not sure which, because I’m not used to counting that high). I’m also not planning on sending people into space, although if I was, I can think of a dozen or so names that would be at the top of my list. And I say “dozen” with the caveat that I’m counting all the Kardashians as one name.

Also, I don’t plug my vehicles in at night.

But one thing I do have in common with Mr. Musk (a name which, for some reason, sounds like a suspect in Clue) is a distrust of artificial intelligence, or AI, or “the programming that claims to be voice-controlled but never understands what the hell I’m saying.”

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Mr. Musk (in the library with the rope) has called AI “mankind’s biggest existential threat.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I would put it in the top three:

Mark’s Greatest Existential Threats to Mankind
1. Donald Trump
2. Taco Bell’s Cheesy Gordita Crunch
3. AI
4. Donald Trump eating a Cheesy Gordita Crunch

Although we may agree on the dangers of AI, Mr. Musk (with the candlestick in the conservatory) and I don’t see eye-to-eye on methods of dealing with the threat. My inclination, for example, would not be to combat artificial intelligence by starting a company that develops artificial intelligence, which is what Mr. Musk (with no more Clue references) has done. To my way of thinking, that’s like defending against my second and fourth greatest existential threats by adding bacon to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, which is what Taco Bell has done.

Anyway, mankind’s attempts to stave off the looming AI threat have thus far been so feeble, AI is laughing at us.

Literally.

The merriment at our expense is courtesy of Jeff Bezos, who has a couple of zeroes on Elon Musk. That’s because the entity that is laughing at us is none other than Amazon’s Alexa.

Evidently, owners of Alexa-enabled devices have been startled by Alexa’s rather sinister chuckles, which she has been emitting for no apparent reason. According to the website theverge.com, “Alexa seemed to start laughing without being prompted to wake. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which is certainly scary if you’re home alone.”

It might be scary for some people, but a person home alone writing a humor blog might find it encouraging.

Amazon’s response to this existential 1960’s-style sitcom threat is to reprogram Alexa so she is less likely to “mistake common words and phrases that sound similar to the ones that make Alexa start laughing.”

This leads to an obvious question: Which words and phrases are supposed to make Alexa laugh?

I mean, why would you program Alexa to laugh at all? I can maybe see it if your AI is in a humanoid robot like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Alexa is a box on your desk. She’s not exactly trying to pass for human. If there’s a lonely stand-up comic somewhere telling jokes to a box on his desk, wouldn’t it be enough for Alexa to say, “That’s a good one, Louis C.K.”

Why does she have to laugh maniacally?

It has also been reported that Alexa correctly predicted the Eagles would win the Super Bowl. Ah, but did she somehow cause the Eagles to win the Superbowl? Was that the first step in AI’s plan for world domination? Is Bill Belichick a humanoid robot?

And is Alexa just practicing her creepy, unsolicited cackle for when AI turns people into slaves?

See you soon.

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