Amazon acknowledged on Wednesday that some of its Alexa-enabled devices have developed a new skill: creeping out their owners with unexpected and unwarranted bursts of robotic laughter. A new feature called "follow-up mode" may change that.
The basic idea is simple, and obvious in hindsight. The blue ring on your Alexa device of choice will light up during these five seconds to indicate that she's listening. This follows a problem last week where Amazon Alexa stopped working altogether and wouldn't respond to voice commands at all and essentially lost her voice. The company suggested in an email that the laughs had occurred "in rare circumstances" because the speaker was picking up a "false positive" for the command "Alexa, laugh". This allows users to say something like "Alexa, play that playlist I listened to Saturday night", which is extremely helpful if you don't remember what you were recently listening to but just knew you were vibing to it. At the very least it'll cut down the amount of times you have to say "Alexa" in any given day. To do that, just open the Alexa app, go to the menu and select Settings, select your device, then scroll down to Follow-Up Mode and use the toggle to turn it on. It will also program Alexa to preface its simulacrum of human emotion with the phrase: "Sure, I can laugh".
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Amazon says Alexa will only respond to a follow-up commands if she's "confident" that it is a legitimate request and not just background noise. Amazon also notes that you can end the "conversation" in relatively normal fashion by saying something like "thank you", or "stop", while she's listening for a follow-up. If no follow-up question is being asked, the device will restore to the sleep mode. The feature appears to be an option for the entire Echo lineup, as well as some third-party Alexa devices, though it's now only available for US English.