"Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like 'Alexa,'" the statement reads. "Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?" At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, "[contact name], right?" Alexa then interpreted background conversation as 'right'."
That is, without question, absolutely wild. Given a handful of factors at play here, though, it was likely inevitable that Alexa would've goofed spectacularly at some point. I'm not a betting man, but let's look at the numbers: Right after Christmas, Amazon confirmed that it had sold "tens of millions" of Alexa-enabled devices around the world. New research indicates that Google has for the first time overtaken Amazon as the world's premier purveyor of smart speakers, but no matter -- people are or were talking to at least 20 million Alexa devices around the world. That amounts to a huge number of interactions for Alexa to interpret every day, and it was only a matter of time before the right set of circumstances produced a situation that Alexa just couldn't handle.
Alexa's cascading failure here isn't simply due to a numbers game, either. It's also because Alexa can be lousy at its job. Looking back through my own Alexa history -- which contains recordings of every interaction I've ever had with it -- reveals a handful of false positives that shouldn't have triggered the assistant in the first place. In some cases, a droning voice on TV said a word that kinda sorta sounded like "Alexa," which prompted the assistant to try and interpret what else the person was saying. In others, the recording stored by Amazon didn't include the Alexa wake word at all, leaving me perplexed as to why Alexa was trying to listen in the first place. It probably won't come as a surprise that most of the recordings that lacked an audible "Alexa" were snippets from a television show or a conversation that was never meant to be heard by Amazon.