Published on September 30th, 2020 | by Emergent Enterprise0
Amazon Went Wide with Alexa; Now it’s Going Deep
We don’t need to choose if artificial intelligence will influence our daily decisions. It already is. And tech giant Amazon is making certain it is embedded everywhere according to Seth Colaner at VentureBeat. The good news is that the devices around us are becoming more helpful and proactive which makes our lives easier. The bad news is that practically our every movement and choice is being converted into data that can be mined by, well, tech giants like Amazon. With the pandemic forcing many people to shift daily life indoors and at home leaving a long digital trail of personal information individual security is tenuous. Conversations with Alexa, the time you arrive and leave home and items you purchase are already and will increasingly be in the cloud waiting to feed the AI that guides your life.
Amazon’s naked ambition to become part of everyone’s daily lives was on full display this week at its annual hardware event. The company announced a slew of new Alexa-powered devices, including a home surveillance drone, a suite of Ring-branded car alarm systems, and miscellany like an adorable little kids’ Echo device. But it’s clear Amazon’s strategy has shifted, even if only for a product cycle, from going wide to going deep.
Last year, Amazon baked its virtual assistant into any household device that could accommodate a chip. Its list of new widgets with Alexa seemed a mile long and included a menagerie of home goods, like lamps and microwaves. The company also announced device partnerships that ensure Alexa would live on some devices alongside other virtual assistants, tools to make it easier for developers to create Alexa skills, networking devices and capabilities, and wearables. It was a volume play and an aggressive bid to build out Amazon’s ecosystem in even more markets.
This year, Amazon had fewer devices to announce, but it played up ways it has made Alexa itself better than ever. That’s the second prong of the strategy here: Get Alexa everywhere, then improve the marquee features such that the user experience eclipses the competition.
As is always the case at these kinds of events, Amazon talked big and dreamy about all the new Alexa features. Users will find out for themselves whether this is the real deal or just hype when Amazon rolls out updates over the course of the next year (they’re landing on smart home devices first). But on paper and in the staged demos, Alexa’s new capabilities certainly seem to bring it a step closer to the holy grail of users being able to speak to a virtual assistant like they were talking to a person.
That’s the crux of what Amazon says it has done with Alexa, imbuing it with AI to make it more humanlike. This includes picking up nuances in speech and adjusting its own cadence, asking its human conversation partner for clarifications to fill in knowledge, and using feedback like “Alexa, that’s wrong” to learn and correct itself.
Amazon is particularly proud of the new natural turn-taking capabilities, which help Alexa understand the vagaries of human conversation. For example, in a staged demo two friends talked about ordering a pizza through an Alexa device. Like normal humans, they didn’t use each other’s names in the conversation, they paused to think, they changed their minds and adjusted the order, and so on. Alexa “knew” when to chime in, as well as when they were talking to each other and not to the Alexa device.