"Insert a coin into the electrical outlet": the dangerous challenge that Alexa proposed to a 10-year-old girl
January 20, 2022
Technology has made giantic progress over the last 10 years. Just reflect on the fact that nowadays we need only to say words out aloud to have an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant respond to our voice. AI allows us to turn the house lights on and off with simple voice commands, operate certain household appliances, lets us read the news and many other domestic chores that we previously had to do manually and personally. In the 60s or 70s, these advances were only the stuff of science fiction stories. And in these stories, it was always emphasized that the intelligence of machines could never truly reach a level equivalent to that of human intelligence.
This story is about a 10 year old English girl and Alexa, the famous Amazon voice assistant, and it should make us reflect on how far the human beings have gone in the development and use of artificial intelligence.
In the UK, the news that Alexa has suggested a dangerous challenge to a 10 year old girl has caused quite a stir. How did this happen and what was the outcome? The girl's mother, Kristin Livdahl, said she and her daughter were having fun at home doing some challenging physical, gymnastic exercises . The little girl asked Alexa to give her another challenge so she could keep herself amused, but the famous Amazon voice assistant proposed "a challenge found on the web" which, to say the least, turned out to be absolutely chilling.
The mother reported in a post on Twitter what Alexa proposed: "Insert a smartphone charger halfway into an electrical socket and then touch the exposed pins with a coin". This is the so-called "Penny Challenge", a very dangerous challenge which started on TikTok and spread to other social networks. It's a challenge - if you can call it that - which would have put the child in danger and could have given her not only a strong electrical shock, but could have also caused a short circuit and a fire. Fortunately, her mother was there, overheard the AI suggestion, and she immediately yelled, "No, Alexa, no." The mother also stressed that, in any event, her daughter would never have accepted such a challenge, but this does not take away the danger that she was potentially exposed to.
Amazon was quick to apologize and to block the Penny Challenge from Alexa's database. In addition to this absurd challenge, other potentially dangerous challenges have also been deleted from the AI search algorithms.
This episode that makes us reflect on how, every day, we put our lives in the hands of machines but that these machines are, unfortunately, not infallible. We should always keep our vigilance on high alert, especially when it comes to protecting our little ones.