The mother of a 10-year old girl took to her Twitter account to share a rather frightening tale that could have had a devastating ending. The child asked Amazon's personal assistant Alexa for a challenge and the digital assistant responded by telling her to plug a phone charger only part of the way inside an electrical outlet and touch the exposed prongs with a penny. That sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Alexa gave a 10-year old girl potentially deadly advice that could have killed her
The mother, Kristin Livdahl
(@klivdahl) disseminated a tweet that included the response from Alexa who is often asked by children to recommend simple games to play and challenges to do, but these challenges are not supposed to be lethal. And Alexa isn't the only digital assistant to give a user potentially fatal directions. Back in October, a Google user reported on Twitter that if you said to Google that you "had a seizure, now what?," the information that Google showed was incorrect and showed what not to do
in case of a seizure.
So in other words, Google was recommending to people who just had a seizure to do exactly the things that they should not
do. At the time, The Verge
was able to confirm the report although the same dangerous and incorrect information does not pop up when you ask Google the same question today.
For example, three months ago if you asked Google Search what to do after a seizure, the search response would be, "Hold the person down or try to stop their movements. Put something in the person's mouth (this could cause tooth or jaw injuries. Administer CPR or other mouth-to-mouth breathing during the seizure. Give the person food or water until they are alert again."
Now match those answers with the response from the actual web page. The latter says DO NOT Hold the person down or try to stop their movements. DO NOT put something in the person's mouth (this can cause tooth or jaw injuries. DO NOT Administer CPR or other mouth-to-mouth breathing during the seizure. And DO NOT give the person food or water until they are alert again.
A medical screw-up by Google could have a fatal result!
So what was happening here was that Google was telling people who just had a seizure that it was fine for them to do the things that they should not be doing which in turn could have led to a much more serious problem. Sometimes the problem isn't that Google screwed up the answer, but that it got the illness wrong in the first place. In one situation Google gave results for orthostatic hypotension when the user was searching for orthostatic hypertension.
The former is a form of low blood pressure that occurs when a person is sitting or lying down and then stands up. The latter is a "sustained increase in systolic blood pressure that occurs within three minutes after someone stands up. Obviously, both are different and Google confused one for the other. Not exactly in the same vein, a Twitter user posted that if you search for the best selling Bluetooth transmitter on Amazon, you'll see the best-selling Bluetooth receiver.
If your child has access to a search engine, it is important to give him or her that all-important talk about not believing everything that pops up on the internet. Imagine if that 10-year old girl decided to try Alexa's morbid little challenge. And parents should be watching what their kids are doing on the internet very carefully. All it takes is one careless slip up by a digital assistant and someone could end up fatally injured by mistake.