A strange situation has everyone wondering, “Who exactly called 911?”
On July 2nd, 2017, sheriffs in Albuquerque responded to a call in which they heard a woman shouting “Alexa, Call 911!”. When they arrived, they found the caller, Milana Honorio, beaten and bruised. After a six-hour standoff, her boyfriend, Eduardo Barros, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and false imprisonment.
The criminal complaint says the two were house sitting when Ms. Honorio received a text message. Mr. Barros accused her of cheating and an argument ensued. The complaint goes on to say that he hit her in the face with a 9mm handgun and kicked her at least 10 times while she was on the floor.
A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department credited the Amazon Echo, a smart home device that features an AI assistant named “Alexa”, for the rescue. The Press Release states “The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life.”
After the story went viral, Rachel Hass, an Amazon spokeswoman, clarified that the Amazon Echo cannot actually call 911. Alexa powered devices can only call and message other Alexa devices. She explained that “there is no capability to switch the call to another phone, device or service.” The Sheriff’s Department spokesman replied stating “The 911 recording is consistent with her statements, as she can be heard screaming in the background, ‘Alexa call 911.’ I cannot confirm which device was connected to the home phone system.”
One possible explanation is that, while the Echo cannot interpret the phrases “Call 911” or “Call the police”, it can integrate with a smartphone app and activate calls from the phone itself. One limitation with this however is that the person being called must be on the contact list. For example, you can say “Call Mom” and the phone will place a call the contact named “Mom”. It’s possible that Ms. Honorio had the app on her phone, integrated the devices and had a contact named “911”, but in this case the Echo itself would not have been actually placing the call.