Digital assistants like Alexa are supposed to answer all your burning questions, giving accurate responses to important queries like “Is it raining?” and “Where is France?” But sometimes, the methods these programs use to dredge information from the web haul up some oddities. Case in point: you should really try asking Alexa “who poop?” because the answer you will get is baffling.
As discovered by Twitter user @tagsavage, if you ask Alexa this question, you’ll get in reply a long list of famous individuals — living and dead — who all, presumably, poop.
Most, but not all, people who poop are British pic.twitter.com/SztRvInHj4— tagsavage (@tagsavage) March 10, 2017
Here’s a sample of the poopers:
Elizabeth II, Victoria of the United Kingdom, Prince Philip, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Abraham Lincoln, Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Madonna, Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Prince Albert, Elizabeth I of England, Theodore Roosevelt, Diana the Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Wayne Rooney, Prince William of Wales, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, William IV of the United Kingdom, Sean Connery, Ralph Fiennes, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Grover Cleveland
The list goes on, but the majority of people mentioned fall into two camps: a) British royalty or b) American presidents. There’s also a smattering of celebrities, philosophers, and generally famous people thrown in for good measure, including Steve Ballmer, Florence Nightingale, and Nietzsche. When you check Alexa’s app you can see, yes, it really is answering the question “who poop?” (Ask “who poops?” though, and you get nothing, zip, nada.) It even throws in an illustration for good measure: a 16th-century woodcut named “The Perfumer” which shows someone having an olde-timey poop.
The abiding question here is what in the everloving fuck is going on? A number of different Verge staff in different countries tried asking Alexa the same question, and we all got the same answer, with the app confirming the program is definitely hearing the query correctly.
Usually when digital assistants throw up weird responses like this, it’s due to Google’s “one true answer” function — the search engine’s habit of highlighting a single result instead of pointing users to other websites. This practice is mostly useful, but can easily be hijacked, leading Google to spread false information like “MSG causes brain damage” or “Barack Obama is King of the United States.”
Alexa gets at least some of its answers via Bing, which should mean it sidesteps this issue. But if you search Bing “who poop?” the list of people above is nowhere to be seen. Even if you search for the names mentioned in the order they appear you get nothing. Ask Google Assistant and it just searches the web; ask Siri and it tells you: “That’s not nice.” So what is going on?
We’re honestly not sure. We’ve reached out to Amazon on this one (they just love hard-hitting questions like this), but if you have any suggestions of what’s happening, let us know. We can, at least, answer the mystery of why someone was asking Alexa “who poop?” in the first place. OG poop-questioner @tagsavage told The Verge that they had “started with the more natural question of ‘who farted?’ and then upped the ante.”
That, at least, makes perfect sense.