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Amazon Echo virtual assistant 'hijacks thermostat' after mistaking radio report for owner's command


By Cameron Clarke, Editor

March 12, 2016 | 2 min read

When a US radio show aired a segment on the ingenuity of Amazon's voice-activated personal assistant Echo, it really did demonstrate the device's talents for performing tasks on command.

By unwittingly making it carry out duties in the homes of several listeners.

At its owner's behest, the smart device can preheat the oven, turn up the heating and do all sorts of other chores when it hears the instruction 'Alexa'.

But it's apparently not quite smart enough to distinguish the sound of its master from the voices coming out of the radio.

So when presenters on NPR's Listen Up show started talking about 'Alexa', the device thought it was being given an order and dutifully sprung into life, according to some listeners.

Host Rachel Martin recounted: "Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this - let's just say we both enjoyed the story.

"So Alexa, listen up - we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?"

Echo is not the only smart device to mistakenly respond to a broadcaster. A TV ad to promote the voice activation feature of the XBox One, starring Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, unwittingly switched on the console in owners' homes.

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