Alexa Mdluli, the bot in the Conspiracy Dot

THE FIFTH COLUMN
Pink News reports a snafu with Amazon’s “virtual assistant” (that’s “bot” to you), Alexa, over the holiday season. Alexa Voice Service, to give it (her?) its (her?) full name, is beamed via something called the Amazon Echo Dot, a small device that will respond to your desires as verbally expressed. It will find music, turn it on or off, tell you when your fridge is running low on food and so on. So Alexa is the bot in the Dot, right?

As Pink News writes: “A YouTube video captures the moment a tech-savvy family tests their brand new Amazon Dot”: a boy of about three asks Alexa to “Play Digger Digger”, and Alexa responds, “You want to hear a station for: Porn detected porno ringtone hot chick amateur girl calling sexy f**k c**t sh*t sex c*ck p**sy anal dildo ringtones for Android?”

Okay, so Alexa didn’t actually pronounce all those asterisks in the relevant utterance. If you watch the YouTube video, you get the full articulation (and Dad yelling “Stop, Alexa!”) But that’s just too many obscenities in a row, even for me, and, besides, I like asterisks.

Also, I am of the feeling that a family described as “tech-savvy” gets what it deserves. Alexa was only doing her job.

Whatever the child meant by “Digger Digger” (perhaps Diggers, Dumpers and Trucks by Kidzone, or Diggers (Diggers and Dumpers) by Tractor Ted, as consumerist.com speculates, or even, I imagine, The Digger’s Song, a 17th-century ballad covered by Chumbawamba), but Alexa went straight to Ultimate Comedy Ringtones Volume Two on Spotify, which gleefully offers the world the “best new annoying comedy parody alerts” available.

What three-year-old wants to hear a cartoon song when he can have an annoying comedy parody alert?

I, certainly, and I’m a lot older than three, need more annoying comedy parody alerts. Take the charges recently laid by Gauteng Hawks chief Prince Mokotedi against Robert McBride, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate head, private investigator Paul O’Sullivan, and two others. Apart from tax evasion and treason, they include conspiring to have Mokotedi, national prosecutions head Shaun Abrahams, and a few others assassinated — by Serbian assassins, nogal!

The Serbian assassins seem to be a novelistic touch by whoever compiled the “intelligence” reports on which Mokotedi’s charges are based. But perhaps it was just bot over-enthusiasm, like that of the Amazon Alexa.

It’s as though Mokotedi switched on his Conspiracy Echo Dot Bot, known as Alexa Mdluli, and shouted “Charges against McBride!” at it, and it immediately came back with: “You want to hear ringtone hot amateur spymaster calling McBride S*bi*n assa**ins Krecjir an*l d*ldo ringtones for Android?”

“Yes!” cries Mokotedi, and it all flows naturally from there.

There are still details to be uncovered, though, and I hope the Alexa Mdluli bot can help. Mokotedi says McBride et al planned to unleash upon South Africa an “Arab Spring”. But where were they going to get all the Arabs from?

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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