Over Christmas break, my favorite gift to family was an Echo Dot. I reasoned that it’s affordable but fun, just techy enough for relatives but easy to use and with lots of cool add-ons like lighting controls and other junk. I know that mostly it will be used to get the weather but everyone seems happy so it’s a hit. By mid-afternoon holiday skype sessions and phone calls begin and several friends and family make appearances. One family friend pointed out and interesting detail about my Aunt and Uncle’s new smart device: he had personally asked it if it believed in Jesus. Alexa reportedly responded that Jesus was a fictional character. Further questioning revealed that Alexa also believed that Mohammed was a great man. Of course I smelled bullshit and to my great excitement, my Aunt declared that we should look it up on Snopes before believing it. Some simple investigation revealed the claim to be false, having been made in a falsified video internet-evangelist, Steve Crowder, who I would generously describe as “fringy.”
What sticks out to me the most in this case is not the spreading of the wacky rumor but the acquisition of the false information into the teller’s own experience. The statement over Skype was “I asked Alexa…” not “I heard that someone asked…”
The experience became part of his own memory, even though it couldn’t have (Alexa was never programmed to say this.) Was he simplifying the information for the sake of brevity or, a scarier thought, was the information so true, so possible that he believed himself to have heard it from the Echo’s mouth?