Two tons of creamed corn

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Sure, you could just ask, but this also takes care of the host gift thing."

Unless of course they have Google Home. In which case apparently the thing to do is to ask about the communist coup that Obama is planning…


  1. AntC said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 1:12 am

    I was expecting some sort of linguistic point here. (Am I just being dumb?)

    Is "two tons of creamed corn" a meme? Or a tongue-twister? Or a phrase that Alexa is famed for misunderstanding? (I can't think of anything it would easily get confused with.)

    xkcd explainer isn't helping me either — in fact, it seems puzzled too.

    [(myl) The main point is that so many people now have household items that listen to what they say and attempt to follow their instructions in collaboration with a remote army of servitors.]

  2. Peter Taylor said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 2:34 am

    @AntC, how about that there's more to understanding utterance than simply meaning? Here we see an illustration that as natural language processing finds its way into new spheres it increasingly needs to distinguish not just the words uttered but who said them, in order to validate authorisation. Other news stories referring to Alexa have highlighted the importance of it understanding why the words were uttered: was it an intended interaction with the software or not?

  3. Keith said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 3:32 am

    I was also expecting some more obvious humour, along the lines of the recent "two mini doughnuts" joke.

  4. Lazar said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 4:43 am

    @AntC: I think the joke is simply that making ridiculous orders will dissuade people from having Alexa on when you're around.

  5. Lane said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 4:53 am

    It's probably funnier if you're familiar with all of the stories of Alexa going rogue and ordering things, like the thousands of people whose Alexa devices ordered a doll's house after a news report about a girl accidentally ordering a doll's house was told on the air with the newscaster repeating the command "Alexa, order a doll's house".

    And creamed corn is just inherently funny.

    (But it's worth noting for accuracy that Alexa isn't transmitting anything anywhere unless you say "Alexa", or something else similar enough that it's accidentally triggered. I've found this to be rare – once every couple of weeks maybe. So don't say "aw, hecks yeah, I'm gonna do some murders".)

  6. Adam F said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 4:55 am

    "And creamed corn is just inherently funny."

    Am I the only one who likes it? (Not 2 tons of it at a time, though.)

  7. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    I wonder if Alexia comes in regional (topolexical) versions. What happens if someone in Providence says, "Alexia, order me a chocolate cabinet"?

  8. Christian Weisgerber said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 11:18 am


    But it's worth noting for accuracy that Alexa isn't transmitting anything anywhere unless you say "Alexa"

    What if somebody from the department of counter-terrorism and parking violations singles you out as being suspected of being suspicious and orders Amazon to send a firmware update to your device so it transmits continuously?
    "Your Honor, the only way to find the suspect is to surveil these million people—" "Granted!"

    [(myl) If we can believe Wikileaks, lots of devices can be hacked (legally or illegally) to act as remote sensing devices of various kinds, including audio. And you might remember a case a few years ago where a school system in the Philadelphia suburbs handed out laptops to students while retaining (and sometimes using) the ability to check on them via the built-in camera and microphone…]

  9. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 8:12 pm

    I don't understand why anyone wouldn't have a verbal PIN set-up to validate Amazon purchases via Alexa — it's right there in the setup. Unless you never have visitors, or think someone will never break into your house when you're on a week-long holiday, or you don't have children who might want a cool new toy.

  10. Martha said,

    March 7, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

    I don't understand why Alexa doesn't ask people for more specifics, like what brand they want or something. When the TV news orders a dollhouse for you, you just get a random dollhouse?

  11. chris said,

    March 8, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

    @AntC: It may help to know that the man in the black hat is a reoccurring character who is a notorious troll. So convincing someone else's automated system to order something useless is his idea of a joke.

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