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This article was published on October 25, 2017


Hacker pieces together Alexa-powered talking skull

Hacker pieces together Alexa-powered talking skull
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him

Some people see Amazon’s Alexa as a helpful assistant who exists to make dimming the lights, listening to jazz, and getting a weather report as simple as speaking a command. Other people see the AI as part of an ongoing experiment involving the creation of a monster made from a Raspberry Pi computer, an Echo speaker, and the skull of a witch who was burned at the stake for heresy.

Just kidding, the skull looks like it’s made of plastic. The fact that it isn’t real doesn’t stop it from being legitimately scary, starting from the 25 second mark, in this YouTube video:

The skull’s voice is terrifying, then familiar, then terrifying because it’s familiar. And it’s exacerbated by the calm human who speaks to his creation with what seems like a mixture of pride and joy.

The Dr. Techenstein (my words) we’re referring to is Mike McGurrin, an aspiring roboticist who dabbles in animatronics featuring Amazon’s Alexa. He described his reasoning in a blog post where he stated:

When Yorick was first brought to life, he had Alexa’s voice. A lot of his charm was the incongruity between his appearance and his voice … I didn’t want to lose Alexa’s voice, so I edited the AlexaPi code so that it would recognize both “Alexa” and “Yorick” as trigger words, with the output sound depending on which trigger word you used. As a result, Yorick now responds either as Alexa or with his own voice.

And sometimes it seems to suffer from dissociative identity disorder in the creepiest possible way. Thanks to McGurrin’s efforts I’ll be hearing “My name is Alexa” in my next batch of nightmares.

And now you probably will too – Happy Halloween!