1931: Virtual Assistant
Title text: If you ask it to please turn off that feature, it apologizes a whole bunch and promises to try to be quieter, then switches to a slightly lower-volume version of the clip with "sorry!" after the louder sounds.
Megan invokes her smart device's virtual assistant with the keyphrase "Okay Google", intending to follow up with a voice command (e.g. "Check the weather forecast" or "Order two tons of creamed corn"). But before she can continue, the smart device interrupts her with a comical cacophony of assorted noises, as a supposed assistant living in the device clumsily rushes from a distant room to Megan's location. The sounds can be interpreted as: tromping down stairwells, knocking over a fragile antique, opening a locked door, taking a quick pit stop in the bathroom, going back through the door, running across another hardwood floor, opening and slamming another door, and finally running up to Megan, greeting her while clearly being out of breath.
The idea of a product that is (in reality) a virtual assistant being an actual person with physical form was featured a few days before this comic on Live from Here on December 16, 2017, in a segment in which Amazon.com and its virtual assistant Alexa were satirized as "Amazon Lazy", which delivered the user things that were already in the user's home -- or simply carried the user from one room of the house to another. (Audio available at https://www.livefromhere.org/shows/59375)
Randall is amused by the idea that such a "virtual" assistant made "real" might be rather clumsy. In fact, Randall finds the concept so humorous that he would like to troll smart device owners by hacking and re-programming their devices to play this sound file whenever the VA is invoked. He makes it clear that he doesn't want to create a botnet with them, perhaps in reference to the infamous Mirai attacks of 2016, whose creators pled guilty in court a week before the comic was posted. Another similar activity that is gaining popularity is hacking IP webcams with embedded speakers for comedic purposes (here's a Youtube channel).
The title text extends the concept further. If the owner attempts to disable the feature, rather than refrain from playing the clip, the virtual assistant apologetically promises to be quieter next time; thereafter, the device plays a modified version of the clip where the noises are only slightly diminished and punctuated with additional apologies from the live-in assistant. Randall has characterized the assistant as being incapable of answering without causing a ruckus.
A previous comic, 1897: Self Driving, also toys with the idea that AI is actually just people behind-the-scenes. Sounds of things falling over and breaking off-screen is a comedic trope used in movies. The idea of making it look as if excessive work is put in to being ready to answer the user may be a reference to the Monty Python "it's" man.
- [Megan stands next to a small table with a Google Home sitting on it.]
- Megan: Ok, Google–
- Google Home: THUMP-THUMP-THUMP
- Google Home: CRASH THUD!
- Google Home: CLICK THUMP THUMP
- Google Home: [sink running]
- Google Home: ZIIIIIP! CLICK
- Google Home: THUMP THUMP CLICK
- Google Home: SLAM!
- Google Home: THUMPATHUMPATHUMPA
- Google Home: H... *Pant* ...Hello... *Pant*
- Google Home: How... How can I help you?
- [Text below the panel:]
- I want to hack the world's smart home devices, but not to create a botnet or anything—I just want to make them play this sound clip every time you invoke them.
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