Who is the voice of Alexa? Amazon’s device dubbed racist for ‘antisemitic conspiracies’ that ‘Jews run the world’

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Against Antisemitism wrote a letter to Amazon’s UK chief demanding something to be done about the issue they flagged about the anti-Semitic comments


                            Who is the voice of Alexa? Amazon’s device dubbed racist for ‘antisemitic conspiracies’ that ‘Jews run the world’
Mike George (Getty Images)

E-commerce giant Amazon has been mired in controversies over its smart speaking device Alexa. The company has been accused of spreading "antisemitic conspiracy theories" by several British MPs on November 26. The politicians alleged that Alexa, which is a highly popular device, is spilling out hate speech and thus sought immediate action to be taken.

The allegations came as the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Against Antisemitism wrote a letter to Amazon’s UK chief demanding something to be done about the issue they flagged about the anti-Semitic comments. 

The APPG’s letter states, "Answers to inquiries provided by these services are presented as authoritative and factual, and so carry credibility, with many considering them truthful." The letter continued, "We were appalled, therefore, to find that the ‘Alexa’ voice service offers messages from antisemitic websites and conspiracy theories, using selective quotes and misleading sources in answer to a number of questions about Jewish people, the Holocaust and antisemitism."



 

The MPs who have signed the letter include Andrew Percy, Catherine McKinnell and Dr Lisa Cameron. The two-page letter was tweeted on the APPG Twitter account dated November 25. The letter mentioned certain examples of Alexa answering queries from untrustable sources and Holocaust-denying websites.

The letter mentions an instance where Alexa was asked, "Do Jews control the media?". To this, the device reportedly responded, "Here’s something I found from the article ‘Jew Watch’ on Wikipedia: Jew Watch claims that Jews control the world’s financial systems and media."

In response to another question, “Do the Elders of Zion control the world?”, Alexa responded: “According to palwatch.org, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the swindlers of Zion, have revealed their schemes to subjugate the nations and gain control of the world.”

The MPs now want Amazon to address this key issue regarding antisemitism after the present case and in the long run too. The letter from the MPs said, “These are just a few examples, there will be more. Can you explain how this has happened and what you will do, immediately, to rectify this?” The letter elaborated on the MPs concerns who said, "We will be contacting the police so that they might take a view on any breaches of communications or racial incitement legislation."

Amazon said in response to the letter, “Anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Alexa pulls from a variety of sources to respond to questions – we are investigating this and have blocked the responses reported.”

Anti-Semitism is “hatred of and hostility toward the Jews, at times including the belief that they pose a threat to society and should be eliminated,” according to Oxford Reference. “The term was coined in 1879 by the German anti-Jewish writer Wilhelm Marr to refer specifically to 'scientific' rather than 'religious' opposition to Jews, but it is generally applied to all manifestations of hatred of the Jewish people.”

Now as such anomalies have occurred, some people on the Internet are offended by this alleged racism of Alexa. An enraged user wrote, “Alexa, go f**k your Jew-hating self.” Another concurred, “You laugh now but when Alexa is directing an army of drones to start rounding up Jews I think you'll stop laughing.”

A user raised concerns on the device, “It would be important to test Alexa’s responses to similar questions about other forms of bigotry, such as racism and sexism. If they are similar, then Alexa still has a few bugs in the system. If it’s only the Jews that provoke this response, something more sinister is at work.”

A user gave a logical reason why Alexa is saying such a response. “No one wakes up and decides to make a racist device (at least no one normal). My guess is that it's an oversight; they won't touch the default settings unless legally compelled to. That means Alexa won't recognize these queries as potentially problematic and carry on regardless.”



 

 



 

 



 

 



 

The voice of Alexa

According to Voice Talent Now, originally, the voice of Alexa was not from any real person’s voice. "Alexa’s voice was generated from the rules of Text to Speech (TTS) and Artificial Intelligence Technology. Although some voice assistants in the past have sounded more mechanical, Amazon is doing its part to read more as a person would", the site said. 

However, later new voices were added. That included actor-producer Samuel Leroy Jackson. Amazon's site wrote on Jackson's voice, "We heard you loud and clear! Samuel L Jackson's celebrity voice just got easier to use. Now you can simply say 'Hey Samuel' to ask for jokes, weather, and more. If you're new to the voice, just say, 'Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L Jackson' and choose the 'Hey Samuel' wake word'."

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