What Alexa Doesn’t Tell Me

Chelsea Blacker

Today I woke up excited to build my first skill in Alexa; intents, slots — it’s quite cool. To keep things simple, I wanted to build a skill that simply answers a few questions about myself. Annoyingly, Amazon restrictions mean I can’t share my skill with anyone outside of mainland Europe so I’ve got this video:

Alexa is consciously refusing to answer questions I program her to give specific replies to. Alexa won’t clarify she is refusing to reply to the question instead playing dumb and feigning incomprehension. It’s not about the content in the answer, it’s about asking Alexa a question approved by Father Amazon.

How do I know this? The archives on my Alexa app show my Echo Dot understood the question. My skill has been processed, indicating the skill is now live. In all senses — she should reply with the command I’ve given her just like she replies to my other commands.

Refusal to reply: Where is Chelsea Blacker from?

I tried variations of my name and friends names, some long, some short, some English, some foreign. I changed the geographic locations in the answer, I made answers vague like ‘America’ and some specific with a street addresses. Nada. Dream on. BUT… when I changed the question to “Where was Chelsea Blacker BORN?” — 💥BOOM🔥! Alexa wilfully reads out the EXACT same reply I coded for “Where is Chelsea Blacker from?” I suspect Alexa is answering information she believes is publicly available, so she’ll say a reply. My initial question about where people ‘are from’ could risk exposing a current home town, street address, and other private information so Alexa says ‘Sorry, I didn’t get that’ — LIAR!!!

Refusal to reply: How can I email Chelsea Blacker?

I tried variations of contact details here too with relevant responses. My email, my phone number. NADA. BUT… when I changed the question to “What is Chelsea Blacker’s website?”-💥BOOM🔥! Alexa wilfully reads out the EXACT same reply I wrote for “How can I email Chelsea Blacker?” It’s not about the answer, it’s about asking her the right question approved by Father Amazon.

Refusal to reply: What are Chelsea Blacker’s hobbies?

I tried variations including ‘spending free time’ ‘like to do at home’ ‘sports played’ , I changed the name 3 times because perhaps the word ‘Chelsea’ and sport/hobby was too closely linked to the famous football club. — NADA. … NOTHING WORKED. I don’t even have a boom for you here. Soz. And I can tell from the Alexa App Archive that she understood my question.

A Curious Observation

Interestingly, when Alexa answers my question, the activity archive recognises my name as “Chelsea Blacker.” Every time Alexa does NOT answer my question, the activity archive recognises my name as “Chelsea Blackburn” or “Chelsea Blaeker” - like the German unrounded vowel sound æ. Plus it claims I pronounce the word “born” like the word “porn.” That part may be possible tbh (see image).

Alexa feigns incomprehension of my name when she doesn’t want to give the reply I’ve coded her to, instead she pulls up some search engine results. Chelsea Blaeker porn — really??

Why is this significant? Because it suggests that EVERY time I ask about my own hobbies, I pronounce my last name differently to EVERY time I ask about my own height. The chances of this happening are EXTREMELY RARE and so I am calling BS on Alexa’s listening display settings. I think she gets me. She’s just playing word games. or maybe listening games.

Happy reply: What is a funny story about Chelsea?

Why did this pass Father Bezos’ stringent guidelines, but questions probing at my illicit hobbies of rock climbing and cooking don’t make the cut?! I don’t know that one either Alexa.

In summary — Alexa won’t tell me she is refusing to answer a question coded into a customised skill or begin to explain why, I have simply established she is intentionally not replying. What about you? What issues have you come up against Alexa skill development with?

Chelsea Blacker

Written by

Agency builder & digital marketing expert in Berlin. ChelseaBlacker.com | Linkedin.com/in/chelseablacker | 🧗🏽‍♀️🎿 📚🍳🐕

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