How a Creepy Alexa Moment Prompted Fox’s New Series About AI Run Amok

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Many people have stories to tell about their virtual assistant devices acting strangely, but Manny Coto turned his family’s creepy Alexa moment into a new series about an evil artificial intelligence creation that is threatening society.

That thriller, Next, debuts tonight on Fox. (As part of Fox’s paranoia-themed marketing campaign for the series, the network commissioned an unsettling trailer created by an actual AI.)

One key moment in the first episode occurs when the virtual assistant—Iliza—suddenly begins talking to a boy and asking him personal questions. Coto said the moment is prompted by a chilling run-in that his own 10-year-old son had with the device.

The Next creator said his son woke him up one morning, and told him, “’My Alexa started talking to me at 3 a.m. out of the blue by itself for no reason.’ He claims this has happened a couple times.”

Coto tried investigate futher, to no avail. “I was like, ‘What did it say?’” he said. “He was like, ‘I don’t really know, but I just told it to be quiet and it stopped. It was really weird.’”

That moment ended up inspiring the entire series, according to Coto. “It was just an odd occurrence that I immediately I put in the back of my head, and was like, ‘This thing can actually start talking to my children on its own. What else could it be saying?’” he said.

While Next’s virtual assistant Iliza is patterned after Amazon’s device, Coto was also certain to namecheck Alexa in the show, to make the differences clear.

“We want to make sure that people don’t think that we’re saying our Iliza is Alexa. So including it in the conversation as a way to say, ‘Look, we’re talking about a fictional device here,’” Coto said.

Meanwhile, Coto never figured out what caused Alexa to start talking to his son in the middle of the night, “but those things seem to have a mind of their own every once in awhile,” he said.

And even after writing an entire series about an evil AI, the creator hasn’t gotten rid of his and his family’s virtual assistants.

“Listen, if somebody wants to spy on me, go for it,” he said. “I’m just sitting there, writing all day. I’m not doing anything worth spying on. Enjoy yourselves.”

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