An intelligent voice assistant like Alexa has made our lives a lot easier in this world of technology. This AI-based assistant will do anything you tell it to do with a single command. But what if the device starts behaving abnormally and doing random things that it is not supposed to?
If your Alexa is doing random things like making weird noises, chiming, or doing things you have not commanded, the possible reasons could be a misinterpretation of wake words, third-party interference, software updates, network issues, background noises, or hardware malfunctioning.
Dealing with Alexa can be easy once you learn the right tricks. Read this article till the end to learn what random things Alexa does and how you can stop it from doing so further.
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Understanding Alexa’s Response Algorithms
We are all aware of the term Alexa.
It is a voice-controlled virtual assistant technology by Amazon.
It is used in various devices like smartphones, laptops, Amazon Echo, Echo Dots, etc.
Alexa can manage your smart house smartly, play audio, answer questions, shop, and order cabs.
Alexa improves your entertainment experience and connectivity to friends with easy access to favorite services.
She can keep your data secure, organized, and efficient if you train her properly.
When I bought my Amazon Echo and used Alexa as a voice assistant, I was first curious about how Alexa works.
The service, called Alexa Voice Service, or AVS, finds out what you ask for, quickly sends the correct information back to your device, and plays it in the speaker.
Alexa is built on natural language processing, or NLP, that converts speech into works, sounds, and ideas.
It will record the words you ask, break down your orders into individual sounds, identify the essential works to make sense of the task, and perform the functions.
Since Alexa is Amazon’s voice service, the Amazon servers will send the information back to your device, and Alexa will speak it.
Let me explain in a bit more detail.
It begins with signal processing, which gives Alexa numerous chances to make sense of the audio by cleaning the signal.
The next thing is the Wake Word Detection.
Alexa needs the user to say one of the words your device is programmed with to turn on, for example, ALEXA in Amazon Echo or Echo Dot.
My Echo speaker’s wake word is ALEXA.
I recorded that inside a silent room with no other background noises.
An accurate and clean wake word reduces the false positives and negatives.
Alexa devices have multiple microphones.
They can pick up different sound waves on each mic.
As the microphones are positioned in an array around the devices, each microphone will record a sound event at a slightly different time with a slightly different wave.
Once Alexa detects the wake word, the signal is sent to the speech recognition software in the cloud, which accepts the audio and converts it to text format.
The output space is large because it searches for English words; only cloud technology can scale it adequately.
Alexa analyzes the user’s speech characteristics, such as frequency and pitch, to convert audio to text, providing feature values.
A decoder determines the likely word sequence, given the input features and the model divided into 2 pieces.
The first piece will be prior.
It provides the most likely sequence based on a large amount of existing text without looking at the features.
Another model is the acoustic model, which was trained using deep learning technology by analyzing audio and transcripts.
For example, you ask Alexa, “Alexa, ask a daily horoscope about Scorpio.”
In this command, the device’s wake word is ALEXA, which will wake Alexa from sleep.
The invocation word is DAILY HOROSCOPE.
This keyword will trigger a specific skill. Users will combine the invocation name with an action, command, or question.
SCORPIO is an utterance.
It is a phrase that users use to request Alexa.
Alexa will determine the user’s intention from the utterance and respond accordingly.
The Impact of Environmental Factors on Alexa
Since Alexa responds to voices, you need to keep Alexa and train its wake word in a quiet room where it can understand your commands correctly.
Otherwise, the background noises will make Alexa do random things.
Background noises can make Alexa misinterpret wake words.
If you make the wake word for Alexa in a room with a noisy background, Alexa can catch up with the noise along with the wake word.
So, whenever Alexa hears those noises in the background, it will respond and start doing things it is not asked to.
As I said earlier, devices working with Alexa have several microphones to catch different sound wave structures.
That is why it can catch up to the noises and do weird things.
To prevent it, keep Alexa where such disturbances do not disturb her.
If you suspect background noises are the issue, take Alexa to a quiet location and change the wake word again by speaking clearly and distinctly.
Use the DO NOT DISTURB feature if you do not want Alexa to respond to such random stuff.
Machine Learning Glitches
Machine learning algorithms are challenging, and the slightest error can make Alexa behave abnormally and do random things.
There have been several reports that Alexa does weird things like doing stuff without any wake word or commands, screaming and startling people, laughing suddenly, and so on.
Alexa uses machine learning to improve its performance.
But machine learning algorithms are tricky and prone to mistakes.
Some potential errors are:
- Introducing malicious data into the training dataset will make Alexa do random things. Tampering with the training data affects the device’s ability to produce correct predictions, making the assistant do random things.
- When the algorithms do learn the training too well and overfit, they won’t be able to generalize new data. So, Alexa will behave unpredictably to unknown commands.
- When the algorithms fail to learn the training properly, Alexa will behave randomly or abnormally even to the known commands. It is called underfitting.
To avoid machine glitches, keep your Alexa in a quiet place while training.
Speak with it clearly and precisely and ensure no background noises are present.
Regularly update the firmware and software to help Alexa generalize new data and improve its performance.
Use simple commands, and avoid vulgar or violent language.
If Alexa misunderstands you, try speaking again.
Increase the size of the training dataset, regularly train your Alexa, and stop the training before the algorithm gets the chance to overfit.
Misinterpretation of Wake Words
Sometimes, Alexa will misinterpret words from conversations as a wake word.
A wake word is a phrase that helps Alexa to wake up.
Alexa responds to the wake word of ALEXA, ECHO, or AMAZON.
It depends on which one you have chosen for her.
It is like we use HEY SIRI in Apple phones and OK GOOGLE in Androids.
Besides the background noises and disturbances, Alexa will also misinterpret to be a wake word when you are conversing with someone close to the device, and she hears words similar to the wake word.
As a result, she will start behaving weirdly and do random things which you did not even command or ask for.
I saw this situation once in my cousin’s house. We were talking about what kind of music Alexa plays as an alarm.
And her Amazon Echo Dot started playing alarm music.
Similar sounds make Alexa misunderstand a wake word, and she will wake up and start doing random things.
Another incident happened during one of my friend’s house parties.
One of our friends’ names was Alex, and another friend’s name was Elka.
Every time we called them aloud, Alexa took it as a wake word, “ALEXA,” and started doing random stuff.
At last, my friend had to turn off the device.
Technical issues in the device can also make Alexa misinterpret as a wake word, for example, a glitch in the software.
To fix these issues, keep your Alexa in a quiet room, train and speak with it clearly and distinctly, and turn on the DO NOT DISTURB feature if you do not want it to respond at a particular time.
Third-Party Skill Interference
You can use Alexa with some third-party applications, which are mini-apps.
These apps can add new features to your devices.
But these are filled with bugs that can hinder Alexa’s smooth performance and make Alexa do things that she is not supposed to or asked for.
For example, if you ask Alexa to play music, the bug in the skill will make Alexa play the wrong song.
At times, these bugs can crash Alexa.
Third parties will require particular permission.
When a skill uses these permissions unauthorized, it can cause unintended consequences.
Another way where third parties can disturb Alexa is by creating conflicts if you have 2-3 apps with the same functionality.
Suppose you have two applications to control your lights, and you command Alexa to close the lights.
In that case, both the 3rd party apps will control the lights simultaneously, leading to light fluctuation.
The best way to stop Alexa from doing random things because of these third-party skills is to stop using them and always install apps from reputed developers.
Whenever you grant permission, read and understand what permission you are granted the skills to use.
Keep the software up to date.
Firmware and Software Updates
Updated firmware and software can provide you with improved performance.
If you use the outdated version, Alexa will behave weirdly by not responding to your commands or responding to commands you do not ask for.
Updated software and firmware help improve Alexa’s efficiency and eliminate bugs.
Without the updates, these bugs and glitches will interfere with Alexa’s smooth functioning, thus making it behave abnormally.
When we talk about Alexa, there are two different things:
- One is the Alexa app on your phone, laptop, or computer.
- The other is physical devices like the Echo, compatible watches, bars, and speakers.
The app on your smartphones and laptops help you manage the settings, connect devices, check for skills and contents, ensure you have the correct music account, and ways to control the voice assistant works behind the scene.
The second one requires separate software updates for the device.
Both the apps and devices tend to update automatically, but sometimes auto-update does not work, and you have to do it manually.
When Alexa does not update automatically, the auto-update is not set correctly.
To manually update the app through smartphones and laptops:
- For iOS, App Store → Account Profile (top right) → Available updates. Check if Alexa is there, or choose Update All to get the update.
- For Android, Google play store → Profile (at top) → Manage apps and devices. Find the app and update it.
If you use the Alexa app on your phone, computer, or watch, you do not have to worry about the updates except those to the OS.
For devices with Alexa built-in, updating gets complicated.
Let’s learn how to update for devices like Echo, Sonos smart speaker, Ecobee thermostat, and so on:
- Make sure that Alexa is connected to the Wi-Fi network. Most devices will have a smooth update with a good network. On Echo devices, the indicator light or ring glimmers blue when an update is processed.
- Say, “Alexa check for software/firmware update.” Alexa will start checking to find an unapplied update for that device and update if available.
- If you have an Echo Show with a touchscreen, go to Settings → Device options → Check for software updates. If there is any, update it.
Network Connectivity Issues
As I mentioned in the previous point, Alexa works better when connected to a network.
Alexa cannot perform up to the mark if you have a weak Wi-Fi signal strength or low network connections.
Even if it receives a weak signal, Alexa won’t be able to catch up with your command properly and keep asking you to repeat your command.
Sometimes, it will catch incomplete commands, assume it to be something else, and start doing things you have never commanded.
Low or weak signals will also make Alexa slow, causing delayed responses.
Alexa’s speech recognition and NLP algorithms depend on fast networks.
Without proper network or Wi-Fi signals, Alexa can misinterpret your commands and respond to random things which you have never said.
To fix these issues, ensure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection in your house and the device with Alexa is appropriately connected.
If there are any obstructions between your router and the device, remove the obstruction and keep them close for a better connection.
If you still get a weak signal, restart your router or the device.
Some glitches or errors can create problems, and restarting can solve them.
Device Hardware Malfunctions
Hardware issues also make your Alexa do random stuff, which she is not supposed to do.
Malfunctioning microphones and speakers can create issues.
These are the devices through which Alexa will hear and reply to your commands.
If these are not in good condition, Alexa won’t be able to catch your full command properly.
So, Alexa will not respond at all. Even if it does, it will catch a different response and start replying to it.
A bad speaker or microphone won’t let Alexa speak properly, or it will react to something which you never intended it to do.
If the processor is bad, Alexa won’t be able to process correctly, leading to delayed or no response.
Restart or reset your device and see if it works.
If not, try to check for the software issues.
If it still doesn’t work, call an expert to check for these hardware issues.
User Behavior and Patterns
When everything is fine, the user’s usage patterns and behavior make Alexa do random stuff.
Repeating the same thing in the same way or the same thing in different ways can confuse Alexa.
Another issue is with the background noises.
It can confuse Alexa. Either Alexa won’t respond to your words, the response will be weird, or something you never intend to ask for.
You must also have a clear and understandable accent while communicating with Alexa.
Alexa may not understand what you need if your accent is unclear or strong.
It will keep asking you to repeat it or provide results for something weird or random that you do not ask for.
So, speak clearly, slowly, and distinctly with Alexa.
If you want to ask the same thing, be consistent in your command.
Keep and train Alexa in a quiet place where no background noises are present to disturb it.
Contextual Awareness and the Lack Thereof
Alexa’s contextual limitations can create issues and make her do random stuff.
Alexa cannot remember what you said or asked for 5-10 minutes.
You need it to do the same thing; you must repeat your command clearly and distinctly.
For example, one day, I asked Alexa to set a timer and then commanded them to play music.
Alexa got confused and started playing music.
She forgot about the timer I had asked to set.
Alexa always does not understand the context of a conversation.
One day, I was talking to my sister about going to a store.
And after some time, I asked Alexa to play music when I was at the store.
And the next thing Alexa did was start playing a song about staying home.
When I asked one of my friends about it, he told me that Alexa did not understand the context of the conversation.
Alexa’s understanding of what you command relies on individual voice commands.
So it may fail to connect the dots between different parts of a conversation to provide a nuanced and context-aware response.
You must speak clearly with Alexa and use straightforward language to avoid such things.
If you give multiple commands together, ensure she understands each after you provide the next one.
Learning from User Corrections
User feedback is one of the best things that help Alexa to improve its performance.
User feedback can help Alexa identify errors, improve accuracy, and expand the capabilities of Alexa.
Whenever a user reports about Alexa, for example, her incorrect responses, or Alexa not understanding specific commands, Amazon will look into the matter and try to fix these things.
Along with the report, you can even suggest commands to introduce into Alexa.
Amazon will look into the matter and add it in the next update.
It would be best if multiple people suggested the same things.
While providing feedback, be clear about your report or suggestion, give examples, and take your time to explain the main problem in the report.
Amazon will sincerely investigate the matter and try to improve Alexa’s accuracy, efficiency, and performance.
Troubleshooting and Prevention
To troubleshoot and prevent your Alexa from behaving unpredictably and doing random things that were not commanded, follow the following tips:
- If you ever find out that Alexa is doing some random things that it is not supposed to, ask Alexa, “Alexa, why did you do this?”. She will respond to your answer. Though it is the simplest method, Alexa always does not answer.
- Keep checking on Alexa regularly, especially the indicator color of the speaker. If it beams blue, the device is in command mode and ready to listen to any nearby noses. You can turn off the mic when you do not need Alexa’s services. It will keep them from misinterpreting any command.
- Alexa can mistake non-verbal responses as commands and start behaving weirdly. It happens when the brief mode is on. Make sure whether it is this mode that is creating issues.
- Paired BlueTooth can disturb Alexa’s everyday activities. To prevent this, request your Alexa to disconnect from all the BlueTooth items.
- Every command of yours to Alexa gets saved. If your Alexa is doing random things, check the history. It could be following up on one of the commands in history. Delete the history and try commanding again.
- Check the default settings in the menu. At times, people keep multiple options enabled that should not be on. It can affect the power of Alexa and encourage it to do random stuff for those options. Check them, and turn the options off.
- Avoid downloading any 3rd party skills. Even if you need them, pay attention to the permissions they ask for and then grant them.
- At times, rebooting or restarting the device can solve the problem. Use it as a last resort.
- If it still creates an issue, contact Amazon Support for help.
Having Alexa at home makes your home smarter and easier. But specific issues can make Alexa do random things. Background noises, machine learning glitches, misinterpreting wake words, using third parties or more than one app with the same features, outdated software, network issues, and hardware malfunctioning are some common reasons behind Alexa doing random things.
Besides these, repeating the same thing, commanding inconsistently, and lack of understanding of the context of a conversation can also make Alexa do stuff that you have never asked for.
The performance of Alexa can be improved by regular training and providing feedback. Feedback will encourage Amazon to investigate the matter and improve Alexa in areas where needed. Follow the troubleshooting tips I have shared to improve Alexa’s performance and efficiency.
What is NLP?
Standing for Natural Language Processing, NLP is a convergence of artificial intelligence and computational linguistics which manages interactions between machines and natural human languages. It is what helps Alexa to interact with humans amicably.
Why does Alexa make weird noises?
The reasons discussed in this article could apply to noises too. Maybe Alexa heard something and misinterpreted it as commands, or you have some paired devices. Ask Alexa directly about it, and see if she has the answer.
Reference: Amazon Alexa Wikipedia