Home AI Systems Go Down Worldwide
June 30, 2018
This past week, not one but two different home AI systems crashed, leaving users without their trusty virtual assistants and confused. The first to go was Google Home and Chromecast, which stopped working for a full 12-hour stretch as Google officials worked tirelessly to determine the cause of a glitch that occurred around the globe. Millions of users were unable to use typical voice commands or searches, and the speakers stopped working entirely.
This issue affected the Google Home Mini and Google Home system, along with the television device, Chromecast. As the error occurred, Google advised that they were working to reverse the error and apologized, but users were never given an excuse for the outages and never told exactly what the problem was or how the tech giant planned to fix it. It’s assumed that the Google Home system crashed due to a bug, as the systems began to respond with the error message, “there was a glitch, try again in a few seconds.” Of course, a few seconds turned into a few minutes, which turned into an entire day without use.
The typical response to a mechanical failure is to turn the device off, wait fifteen seconds and turn it back on. For the Google devices, this rebooting method didn’t work, and in some cases, froze the hardware further so that nothing at all could be done or said. For Chromecast users, there was no way to watch television programs or stream movies, which usually run from the Chrome network.
The outage was reported to Google immediately, with Google responding back via their Twitter social media account. First, the company suggested users hadn’t setup their devices properly and it was a user error, then the company tweeted an apology, advising that they were working to reverse the problem. While these online complaints seemed to originate in the United States, it was soon apparent that New Zealand, India, Spain, and even Argentina were affected by the issue.
Users were left in the dark as to when the fix would start working and whether they would be able to access their devices before the end of the day. Families tweeted their frustration at believing the Chromecasts to be broken, expressing distaste for Google and the way they were handling the issue. Most of these complaints and comments went unnoticed by the tech giant, who would post an apology every so often, none of which included a reason or time frame for the problem.
Finally, after hours of waiting, Google posted a statement explaining that they’d found the problem and that it would be fixed within 6-hours. Users who wanted an immediate fix were instructed to reboot their devices. More apologies were given, and eventually the issue was resolved.
Echo Owners at a Loss
It seems Google Home and Chromecast weren’t the only tech components to experience a glitch this week. Coincidence? Alexa, the Amazon AI virtual assistant featured through the Echo speakers sold by the ecommerce giant also had some problems this week as they failed to work, starting in the U.S. in the early morning hours. Eventually, it was made clear that it wasn’t just the U.S. experiencing the problem, as Echo owners in the UK and other parts of Europe tuned in and began voicing their frustration with the system as well.
The error message given by Alexa was, “Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.” When contacted, Amazon customer care expressed apologies and told users that the issue was a known one, which would be resolved in the next 30-minutes to 2-hours. The company also published an outage map, which showed the regions affected by the problem; it was a global failure.
Whether there’s some sort of connection between these two different artificial intelligence units, or it really is a coincidence that both failed to work globally around the same time, is yet to be seen. Neither company has commented on whether there is a connection, and both are staying hush hush regarding the reason for the failure and why it took so long to rectify it. Some users assume that the tech giants are embarrassed at their inability to maintain and fix a problem with the software, while others assume the worst, that these units in the home of millions of users worldwide were in fact compromised.
Virtual assistants, like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, have access to various types of personal information, including, but not limited to contacts and financial data. Having these systems hacked leaves users vulnerable to identity theft and other types of personal theft. Neither Google nor Amazon has suggested that users be worried about this now, but there’s always a chance of a leak when units go offline on a mass scale like this.
So, what does the future hold for Google Home, Echo speakers, and other forms of artificial intelligence and virtual assistants? For now, it seems like users have picked up right where they left off, but these issues could affect the companies in the stocks and in future sales if they aren’t careful. Only time will tell whether this is the first of many problems and that both AI issues were singular occurrences which won’t be repeated. With the recent updates of thousands of privacy policies and the current legal turmoil regarding Facebook’s leaked user information, one thing is apparent: tech users need to be careful with their personal info.