Any time a character tries to get help from a virtual assistant or other voice activated device, the computer will always misunderstand the command and Hilarity Ensues. This could be due to the character having a difficult to understand accent, a Speech Impediment, or bad acoustics. Alternatively, the virtual assistant could just not be very advanced. Often times, the assistant will hear the words correctly, but will misunderstand the meaning or else they will take the command too literally. Sometimes it will mistake something not meant as a command as a command. One common outcome is for the virtual assistant to play an annoying or inappropriate song with lyrics that are similar to the requested command.
Alternately, the virtual assistant could mistake an intended command for a message and generate a text-to-speech transcription, in a variation of Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud.
Another variant is for a character to call an automated hotline that requires vocal responses, which causes its own set of problems.
With voice-activated smart phones and virtual assistants becoming more common in the real world, this is very much Truth in Television. Sister Trope of Auto-Incorrect, where an autocorrect or speech-to-text program supplies the wrong word. Compare Overly Literal Transcription.
- An Amazon Alexa advertisement starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost shows another variant. The married couple imagines an Alexa so hypercompetent that it can read their minds, resulting in many awkward social situations. For example, it orders mouthwash when they wake up to each other, blasts "Little Lies" when Johansson lies to her husband that she doesn't enjoy doing intimate scenes, and announces to their dinner guests that Jost left the oysters they're eating in the car for hours.
- A Snickers commercial from 2017 had a doctor whose smartphone had ended up inside a patient who had surgery, and the doctor says "The important thing is, we're going to make you better." The phone's virtual assistant immediately chimes in: "Okay, here's how to make butter..."
- South African comic Trevor Noah does a routine that highlights how VA's like Siri and Alexa are only really geared up to understand instructions in Standard English. Trevor illustrates this by taking on the persona of a Boer whose first language is not English, but Afrikaans. Alexa is eventually thrown out of a window by the exasperated Afrikaaner.
- Similarly, Northern English comedian Paddy McGuiness discovers that Alexa cannot deal with strong English regional accents either. His Alexa is eventually binned as he turns the kettle on for a relaxing brew.
- Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges once did a routine about trying to order tickets to see The Taking of Pelham One Two Three through an automated phone service that couldn't understand his Scottish accent no matter how slowly he talked.
Kevin [frustrated] "English bastards!" [imitating the phone service's response] "You have chosen Inglorious Basterds, certificate 18."
- Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation: Drac hears that he can get a date over the Internet and attempts to ask his smartphone to set him up on a date, but the phone keeps misunderstanding his instructions.
Drac: I'm looking for a date.
Phone: The date is Friday, July 13th.
Drac: No no no. I want to meet someone.
Phone: Understood, you want to eat dim sum!
Drac: Are you kidding me right now?
- The LEGO Movie: Benny's attempts to hack Lord Business' master computer and disable the shields are frustrated by the computer misinterpreting his voice commands, no matter how he phrases the instruction. Played with when Metalbeard tries it, and the computer interprets his pirate-speak version of the command perfectly on the first try.
- Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe: A gag is made of the alien ship's voice recognition being on par with that of home virtual assistants on Earth, that is to say, not good. The ship's computer mishears Candace's command to launch Vanessa's escape pod to launch all escape pods, thus leaving her behind. When Candace tells the ship to "Stop, stop, stop, stop", the computer mishears it as a command to play "Chop Chop Chop" by the Lumberzacks.
Candace: Nevermind, this is exactly like the one we have at home.
- Rio 2: Blu gets a GPS to help with the family's trip to the Amazon. It doesn't help as much as he hopes, mostly due to misinterpreting his requests.
Blu: Come on, lady. Don't let me down.
GPS: Calculating route to "Funky Town".
- L.A. Story: Harris K. Telemacher is trying to program his voice operated answering machine to make calls. When he says "Dial Mom", it calls Domino's Pizza.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury is under attack and his car's A.I. is reporting multiple systems damaged. In frustration, Fury sarcastically asks what's not broken — and is told that the air conditioning is fully functional.
- In Ant-Man, as Ant-Man and Darren Cross (inside of the Yellowjacket armor) wage a Free-Fall Fight inside of a briefcase, the two of them bump with Cross' iPhone and Yellowjacket hollers out "I'm going to disintegrate you!", which Siri takes as a request to play The Cure's "Disintegration".
- SpaceCamp: The robot Jinx takes what it hears literally. After hearing Max say "I wish I could go to space", it interprets this as a command and hacks the space shuttle while Max is aboard so it will initiate takeoff.
- Us: When Kitty is attacked by the Tethered, she calls for her digital assistant, "Ophelia", to call the police. The device plays "Fuck tha Police" by N.W.A.
- In Wild Hogs, Dudley's Establishing Character Moment has him using a voice-activated laptop to show off his tech-savviness to a lovely woman. Unfortunately, when he says "Alternative specs" the laptop searches for "alternative sex." Cue a flood of VERY loud popups for fetish sites.
- In Moon Base Alpha: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs, the top scientist of Moon Base Alpha is found dead and everyone is a suspect. Dash Gibson, the protagonist, says it could have easily been the base's AI, since they misunderstand everything. He relates a rumor that World War III was almost started when an AI missile system back on Earth misheard "I hate syrup" as "annihilate Europe."
- The Big Bang Theory: In "The Beta Test Initiation", Barry disparages the voice recognition on the new iPhone, not realizing it is because of his Elmuh Fudd Syndwome.
Barry Kripke: You got Siwi, huh? Voice wecognition on that thing is tewwible. Wook. Siwi, can you wecomend a westauwant?
Siri: I'm sorry, Bawwy. I don't understand "wecomend a westauwant."
Barry Kripke: Wisten to me. Not "westauwant," westauwant!
Siri: I don't know what you mean by "not westauwant, westauwant."
Barry Kripke: See? Total cwap. You suck, Siwi.
- Birds of a Feather: The Ptolemy smart device (a Brand X version of the Amazon Alexa smart device) that Sharon purchases in "The House For The Rising Sons" keeps mishearing everything that she says as the "Billericay Tennis Club". When Sharon then asks what is the best place to play tennis in Billericay, it mishears it as a command to play "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day".
- Burnistoun: One sketch involves two men in an elevator which operates by voice recognition. It can't understand their Scottish accents and asks them to repeat their desired floor over and over, while the guys try talking in different accents and ultimately resort to screaming abuse into the microphone.
Where's the buttons?Oh no, they've installed voice-recognition technology in this lift. They have nae buttons.Voice recognition technology? In a lift? In Scotland? Ye ever tried voice recognition technology?*shrugs* No.They don't do Scottish accents.
- Community: Pierce tries and fails to use a voice command on his cell phone. However, it does accidentally pick up on him saying the word "mother" and call his mother, and Pierce awkwardly has a conversation with her.
- Only Murders in the Building: When Charles is poisoned by Amy, he attempts to use his phone's Siri, saying "Siri, I don't feel good". Siri ends up playing "Fields of Gold" by Sting.
- A short-lived storyline in Pobol y Cwm involved a character trying to create a prototype of a Welsh-language virtual assistant, only to run into this problem whenever he tried to test it.
- In the Raumschiff GameStar episode "Open Death Star Day", Darth Mopp gets carried away hurling insults at the supposedly dumb Death Star visitors, not realizing that the Death Star's voice activated AI interprets everything he says as a command, eventually leading to a massive malfunction.
- The Top Gear trio once discussed this trope during a news segment, noting how voice-controlled systems in cars never seem to work, with Clarkson suggesting they simply can't cope with the sheer number of accents they need to be able to understand. They're not wrong, either; anytime one of the presenters drives a car with a voice recognition, it will misunderstand every command they give them.
Clarkson: You're driving along, you don't have to take your hand off the wheel, you go, "Call Richard Hammond."Hammond: "Collapsing suspension."Clarkson: It does! "Oh dear, it's misunderstood me." [in exaggerated Received Pronunciation] "Call Rrrrichard Hammond."Hammond: "Deflating tyres."May: "Reinflate tyres!" "Calling Richard Hammond."
- Carousel of Progress: John in the final act has some issues with his voice activated oven, which raised the temperature every time John spoke a different number in an unrelated conversation, burning the turkey.
- In the CollegeHumor "If Google Was a Guy" skits, Google is personified as a middle-aged office worker that people come to in order to ask questions. At one point a woman tries to ask a question through the Apple interface Siri, who repeatedly messes up the question. Much later in the skit, Siri is still misinterpreting the question. The skit in question.
Siri User: How big is the Serengeti?
Siri: No problem. [turns to Google Guy] Show me pictures of spaghetti.
Google Guy: No, that's not what she asked for!
- In the React episode about the Google Glass one of the elders had to record a video. Instead it showed him videos of "elastic dick video".
- Big Mouth: In "Cellsea," Maury gets excited at the prospect of global warming and asks Siri to find "fuckable magma" near him.
Siri: Did you mean "edible smegma"?
Maury: No! But, you know, bookmark that.
- Bob's Burgers: In "O.T.: The Outside Toilet", Gene discovers a high-tech toilet with voice recognition capabilities. Its AI is pretty advanced, but it still makes these blunders occasionally, such as playing the band Wings when Gene asks if it can deploy wings and fly.
Gene: I'm gonna bet my sisters $1,000 that there isn't a talking toilet in the woods. That's what I call easy money.
Toilet: Playing artist Eddie Money.
[rock music playing]
Gene: No, no, cancel! Undo!
- Futurama: In "The Luck of the Fryrish", Professor Farnsworth's computer overhears the cast's conversation and helpfully pulls up a plot-relevant documentary, but also does two irrelevant actions:
Professor Farnsworth: Shut up, friends. My Internet browser heard us saying the word "Fry" and it found a movie about Philip J. Fry for us. It also opened my calendar to Friday and ordered me some french fries.
- In The Loud House episode "Can't Hardly Wait", Lori is trying to be a waitress, so Lisa invents some voice-activated robot arms. Only, they keep mishearing Lori: They hear "bill" as "pepper mill", "stop" as "chopped", and "not what I meant" as "condiments".
- Phineas and Ferb: In "Candace Disconnected", Phineas and Ferb build Candace an advanced cell phone with a voice-activated transportation app — all she has to do is say "Go to [location]" and the phone will automatically send her to that location. This backfires when she's chatting on the phone with Stacy about an Easter Island documentary and says, "Why would you ever want to go to Easter Island?" The app picks up the last four words as a command and transports Candace to Easter Island.
- The Simpsons: In "HOMR", Homer buys stock in an animation company and calls an automated hotline to check its stock price.
- In the House of Mouse short "Computer.don", Donald Duck can't get his computer to understand him, or even speak his name correctly—it keeps calling him "Duwald."
- In another short, an assistant at the phone company is extremely unhelpful to Mickey, Donald and Goofy, attempting to yank Donald's beak off when he confirms he wants to "pay his bill".