Following a video posted by conservative pundit Steven Crowder of Amazon’s Echo assistant, “Alexa”, calling Jesus a “fictional character”, many Christians have reacted with outrage. Crowder’s video, however, was met with several accusations that it was a hoax after many skeptical Echo users received much more neutral answers from their devices.
Crowder’s original video was posted on Black Friday and received over a million views that day. The video shows him asking Alexa, "who is Jesus Christ?" to which it responds, “Jesus Christ is a fictional character.” He has rebutted allegations that his video was a hoax by posting raw footage as well as videos sent to him by others who got the same answer from their Alexa-enabled devices.
"We have plenty of tweets and videos from people who asked it the question and they got the exact same answer," Crowder said. "This is the issue with the internet. People just come up with a conspiracy and they defend it with no shred of truth. That's how it gets started."
Several critics of the Crowder video, however, allege that he could have used Alexa’s "Simon says" function to pre-program the sophisticated chatbot to answer Crowder’s question with the “fictional character” response. Other Echo users posted their experiences on YouTube of Alexa giving a much more neutral, academic description of Jesus. David G. McAfee, an atheist and blogger on Patheos, claimed that 20 of his friends asked their Echo devices the exact same question and none of them received the answer that the Crowder video showed. "Every single person said Alexa read them a Wikipedia entry for Jesus Christ. And if you ask, 'Who is our Lord and Savior?' Alexa says some variation of, 'Sorry, I don't know that one,'" Mehta explained. He argued that "Crowder is lying and riling up his fellow conservatives, while the rest of us watch on the sidelines wondering how people are falling for it.”
Crowder acknowledged in his rebuttal that not everyone gets the same answer from Alexa. He suggests that Alexa developers might have reprogrammed Alexa to give a different answer in response to the massive backlash: "We did release a video targeting Alexa, Amazon's number one product, and it got a million plays on a Black Friday weekend, I would imagine they've made some changes.”