The Big Wake Up With Don Chase and Sarah

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SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 20: An updated "Echo Dot" (L) is pictured next to an older generation "Echo Dot" at Amazon Headquarters, on September 20, 2018 in Seattle Washington. Amazon launched more than 70 Alexa-enabled products during the event. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Great news!  You don’t have to wonder anymore.  Yes, there are words that trigger your voice-activated smart speaker.

So if you’ve ever accidentally woken up Siri or Alexa – or even worse, if a TV show has – and wondered what in the world is going on, researchers have some info to help you out.

A study by Northeastern University figured out the ways our smart speakers listen to us, by playing a bunch of shows off Netflix and monitoring which phrases triggered the smart speakers most.

So what did the study say happened most? Here’s their key findings:

What kind of non-wake words consistently cause long activations? We found several patterns for non-wake words causing activations that can be reproduced at least three times during our experiments. Our PETS2020 paper contains an appendix with full closed captions for the most reproducible activations. Our findings are summarized as follows.

  • For the Google Home Mini, these activations commonly occurred when the dialogue included words rhyming with “Hey” or “Hi” (e.g., “They” or “I”), followed by hard “G” or something containing “ol”. Examples include “okay … to go”, “maybe I don’t like the cold”, “they’re capable of”, “yeah … good weird”, “hey .. you told”, “A-P … I won’t hold”.
  • For the Apple Homepod, activations occurred with words rhyming with “Hey” or “Hi” (e.g., “They” or “I”), followed by a voiceless “s”/“f”/“th” sound and a “i”/“ee” vowel. Examples include “hey … missy”, “they … sex, right?”, “hey, Charity”, “they … secretly”, “I’m sorry”, “hey … is here”, “yeah. I was thinking”, “Hi. Mrs. Kim”, “they say … was a sign”, “hey, how you feeling”.
  • For Invoke (powered by Cortana), we found activations with words containing a “K” sound closely followed by a “R” or a “T”. Examples include “take a break … take a”, “lecture on”, “quartet”, “courtesy”, “according to”.
  • For Amazon devices, we observed different activating patterns based on the wake word.
    • For the Alexa wake word, we found activations with sentences starting with “I” followed by a “K” or a voiceless “S”. Examples include “I care about”, “I messed up”, “I got something”, “it feels like I’m”.
    • For the Echo wake word, we found activations with words containing a vowel plus “k” or “g” sounds. Examples include “head coach”, “he was quiet”, “I got”, “picking”, “that cool”, “pickle”, “Hey, Co.”.
    • For the Computer wake word, we found activations with words starting with “comp” or rhyming with “here”/“ear”. Examples include “Comparisons”, “I can’t live here”, “come here”, “come onboard”, “nuclear accident”, “going camping”, “what about here?”.
    • For the Amazon wake word, we found activations with sentences containing combinations of “was”/“as”/“goes”/“some” or “I’m” followed by “s”, or words ending in “on/om”. Examples include “it was a”, “I’m sorry”, “just … you swear you won’t”, “I was in”, “what was off”, “life goes on”, “have you come as”, “want some water?”, “he was home”.