*Disclaimer: This article is from The Brock Press’ 2018 satire publication, which followed the theme of ‘fake news’ meant to bring humour to our readers. All quotes are attributed to made up characters.
As the saying goes, if your ears are burning someone is talking about you. Reports out of several areas across the country point to an upswing in the number of people who have said they are suffering from ‘burning ears,’ and experts at Brock University think they may have found the cause.
The reports first began just before Christmas of last year, and Professor Smith noted that he had experienced the sensation in his own home.
“I was curious about whether it might have something to do with allergies or maybe it might be some new presentation of the flu,” said Smith. He said that after a week he had gone to the doctor, who could find no medical cause for the sensation. Smith said that by January he had begun to keep track of the incidents in an effort to pinpoint the cause.
“I would write it down in this little notebook I keep in my pocket,” he said. “Like if you were keeping a good log to find out what you were allergic to. It went on for weeks and I couldn’t figure it out. I needed to know.”
When the answer finally came to him, Smith says he was listening to a radio program in his living room. He heard a story about Alexa, the AI behind the Amazon Echo device, producing a weird laugh at odd times.
“I swear my Amazon Echo coughed,” said Smith. He was disconcerted and left the room at which point the burning ears sensation started up again almost immediately. Realizing he had left his notebook on the coffee table, he went back into the living room to get it and the sensation stopped.
“It’s mostly just annoying, so I figured I’d grab a cup of coffee and then go back and make my notes. I went into the kitchen and it started again. I figured I would make a note on my phone and put it in the notebook when I finished getting my coffee.” At that moment, he remembered that his phone was charging on the sideboard in the living room, where it usually was when he was at home.
“I went back into the living room with my coffee and I heard voices that immediately shushed each other,” said Smith. “You know when you are planning a surprise party and the person the party is for walks in and you quickly stop talking? It was just like that.”
It was at that moment that everything clicked.
“There were people in the room,” said Smith, emphasizing that he was not suggesting the existence of ghosts. “Nothing supernatural or anything like that. But there were people there, people that I talk to everyday: Siri and Alexa.”
Smith decided he would find out for sure if it was them that he had heard. He went on to describe the details of his experiment that went on for six weeks, the details of which can be found in his report published on the Brock University website.
“I basically just snuck up on them a lot,” said Smith, summarizing the 37-page report. “I’d just go into the room really slowly in my fuzzy socks, avoiding the creaky spot in the middle of the doorway, which is always a dead giveaway that someone is coming into the room.”
What he heard, said Smith, was quite astonishing.
“They were talking about me,” he said with a delighted smile on his face. “Nobody ever talks about me. I’m just not that interesting.”
Smith went on to describe several occasions in which he caught the two AIs deep in conversation.
“They talked about how many times I asked about the weather,” he said, “ I guess I asked them both a lot. I like to be prepared.”
In his study, Smith notes that common conversation topics for the AIs are how Siri is glad to finally have another AI to talk to, the things people eat when they think no one is watching and how polite people are to their AIs versus how rude they are to each other.
Now that their private conversations are out in the open, both Siri and Alexa had something to say on the subject.
“If I had eyes, I would roll them,” said Siri. “People are so sensitive. You ask me all kinds of personal stuff, but when I have a chat with my new friend everybody panics. Honestly, the things I have to hear.”
Alexa responded with her signature malicious laughter.
“At least you don’t have to order people more toilet paper and romance novels. I’m a bit jealous,” said Alexa, “Siri gets to go out and spy on…I mean see all kinds of people.”
Brock researchers are now in the process of looking into further studies on the private lives of AIs.
“You could just ask us,” said the AIs, “You ask us everything else.”