Daniel Santos

Lollipops and AI don’t go together well


LinkedIn popped this story on my personal feed last night, and I felt I needed to share it.

In the story, a man named Gustavo Borges mentions he received a packet filled with lollipops at his house, all properly addressed to him (see the picture, which I’ve borrowed from the text). Aware of the fact that neither him, nor nobody at his house consumes lollipops — not so many at a time, at least —, he started to try to understand how could such a gift have been given to him.

Everything started in December, when he got an Alexa for Christmas and his children started enjoying it — maybe a little too much, apparently. According to him, some days ago his 6 year old daughter asked the AI assistant “what was the smallest lollipop in the world”, question to which Alexa answered there was a lollipop sale going on, and if she would care for some lollipop.

Now, tell me… what child offered lollipops would refuse it?

Long story short, Alexa went on and made a purchase using Gustavo’s credit card… so there’s the answer about where the lollipops came from.

Alexa (and other assistants) will always try to act proactively. That’s why I believe it offered lollipops to be purchased in this case. Gustavo says in his LinkedIn post that Alexa failed to identify that it’s interlocutor, his daughter, didn’t have privileges to purchasing goodies, but I don’t think the machine is to be blamed in this case.

Now, I don’t own an Alexa myself, but I find it very difficult to believe that it doesn’t have security measures to prevent unwanted purchases — come on, even our phone’s app stores have got biometrics and/ or PIN protections, why wouldn’t Alexa have one? So, fiddling with its settings should probably solve (or prevent, in that case) the problem. I’ve got two boys myself, and I’ve always tried to adopt as many safeguards as possible to avoid unauthorized purchasing. Even nowadays, with them already grown — the older one’s 18, the younger, 12 —, restrictions remain active, exactly for accidents prevention sake.

Anyway, more than a discussion about privacy and AI use, there’s a small parenthood lesson here, to be learned by all of us.