I debated whether to share this fart story with you, because farts are – unfairly, in my opinion – maligned as juvenile and bad manners. But I decided in favor, because farts are one of life’s daily inevitabilities, and also because farts are hilarious.
Amazon agrees, apparently, because if you ask Alexa to make a fart sound, she will oblige.
Stella Starkey of Seattle (say that five times fast) asks Alexa to do this about once a week. I work with Stella’s mom, Jeannie Yandel, here at KUOW.
“Alexa, make a fart noise,” Stella will say. Sometimes she’ll specify the kind of fart she’d like to hear.
“I remember three to four distinct fart sounds,” Jeannie said. “Like, a quick loud one, a long drawn-out one, and a quiet-ish one that gets louder."
Stella’s dad, Aaron Starkey, discovered that Alexa will fart on command about a month ago. Aaron, who owns a web development company, bought the device to test it for a client.
“I was going through different absurdist things it could do. If you were creating an AI” – artificial intelligence – “device, how much does it understand what you’re asking it? Are there cultural or social parameters that are baked into it?” he wondered.
Hmm, yes, I said. But what about the farts? Would he mind describing those? (I am a very serious journalist.)
Aaron paused. “I don’t know if I want to be on the record as describing fart sounds,” he said. “It was less about the fart thing – and more, ‘Is each question a blank question? Does it respond with the same thing?’”
Aaron referenced idempotence, which roughly means you get the same response each time you conduct a specific operation. Alexa is not idempotent. That is, Alexa responds with slightly different answers each time she is asked a question. (I may have just butchered that concept, and for that I apologize. Then again, you have made it this far into a story about farts.)
Aaron also asked Alexa for directions to Mordor, J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy middle earth world, but she didn’t have an answer. (Siri does, however.)