Amazon’s Alexa is set to bring generative AI into the home, as the company introduces sweeping changes to the way its ubiquitous voice assistant sounds and works.
The company announced a generative AI update for Alexa, and subsequently all Echo products dating back to 2014, during a press event Wednesday at its new campus in Arlington, Virginia. Alexa will be able to resume conversations without a wake word, respond more quickly, learn user preferences, answer follow-up questions, and change tone depending on the topic. Alexa will even give her opinion, for example on films that should have won an Oscar but didn’t.
Generative AI refers to a type of artificial intelligence that can create new content, such as text and images, in response to user prompts.
“It’s like talking to a human being,” one Amazon executive said.
The updates come as Amazon tries to keep pace with a new wave of conversational AI tools that have accelerated the tech industry’s artificial intelligence arms race and rapidly reshaped what consumers can expect from their technology products. The company has not revealed when the updates will be rolled out to the products.
In a live demo, Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon, asked Alexa about his favorite college football team without ever saying the name. (Limp said he already told Alexa that and remembered it). If her favorite team wins, Alexa responds with joy; if they lose, Alexa will respond with empathy.
When Limp said “Alexa, let’s chat,” he launched a special mode that allowed discussion on various topics. Notably, Limp stopped several times to address the audience and resumed the conversation with Alexa without using the wake word “Alexa”, picking up where they left off.
The demo did not go without hiccups – Alexa’s response time sometimes lagged – but the voice assistant had much more personality, spoke in a more natural and expressive tone, and kept the conversation flowing.
Although the company did not specify specific guarantees – some other models written in major languages have previously derailed – it said on its website “that it will design experiences to protect the privacy and security of our customers, and to give them control and transparency.”
The company also said new development tools will allow businesses to work alongside its multilingual model. In a blog postAmazon said it is already partnering with a handful of companies, such as BMW, to develop in-car conversational voice assistant capabilities.
Rowan Curran, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the news marks a major step forward in bringing generative AI into the home and enabling it to accomplish everyday tasks. By connecting speech to text to external systems and By using a large linguistic model to understand and produce natural speech, this is “where we can begin to see the future of how we will use this technology almost ubiquitously in our daily lives.”
Some US users will have access to the changes via a free preview on existing Echo devices. Over the years, Alexa has been integrated into countless Echo products, from its line of speakers and hubs to clocks, microwaves, and glasses.
Amazon also announced that it will integrate generative AI into its Fire TV platform, allowing users to ask more natural, nuanced or open-ended questions about genres, plots and scenes or make more content suggestions. targeted.
Alexa was launched almost a decade ago, and along with Apple’s Siri, Microsoft Cortana and other voice assistants, have been promised to change the way people interact with technology. But the viral success of ChatGPT has undoubtedly made it possible to achieve some of these objectives more quickly and on a wider range of everyday products.
The effort to continue updating the technology that powers Alexa comes at a difficult time for Amazon. Like other big tech companies, Amazon has cut staff in recent months and discontinued products in an urgent effort to cut costs amid broader economic uncertainty. The Alexa division did not escape unscathed.
Amazon confirmed in January that it planned to lay off more than 18,000 employees. In March, the company announced that approximately 9,000 additional jobs would be affected. Limped before said CNN, its division, lost about 2,000 people, about half of whom were on the Alexa team.
He nevertheless stressed that innovation around Alexa has not stalled. “We’re not done and we won’t be done until Alexa is as good or better than the Star Trek computer,” Limp said. “And to be able to do that, it has to be conversational. He has to know everything. He must be the true source of knowledge for everything.