It's nothing new for voice-activated devices to behave badly when they misinterpret dialogue -- just ask anyone watching a Microsoft gaming event with a Kinect-equipped Xbox One nearby. However, Amazon's Echo devices is causing more of that chaos than usual. It started when a 6-year-old Dallas girl inadvertently ordered cookies and a dollhouse from Amazon by saying what she wanted. It was a costly goof ($170), but nothing too special by itself. However, the response to that story sent things over the top. When San Diego's CW6 discussed the snafu on a morning TV show, one of the hosts made the mistake of saying that he liked when the girl said "Alexa ordered me a dollhouse." You can probably guess what happened next.
Sure enough, the channel received multiple reports from viewers whose Echo devices tried to order dollhouses when they heard the TV broadcast. It's not clear that any of the purchases went through, but it no doubt caused some panic among people who weren't planning to buy toys that day.
It's easy to avoid this if you're worried: you can require a PIN code to make purchases through the Echo or turn off ordering altogether. You can also change the wake word so that TV personalities won't set off your speaker in the first place. However, this comedy of errors also suggests that there's a lot of work to be done on smart speakers before they're truly trustworthy. They may need to disable purchases by default, for example, and learn to recognize individual voices so that they won't respond to everyone who says the magic words. Until then, you may see repeats in the future.