As competition in the AI sector heats up, Amazon has unveiled a more robust and conversational version of its voice assistant, Alexa.
The upgrade was previewed at a live event, signaling Amazon’s intent to remain at the forefront of the voice assistant industry.
Alexa is by far the most commonly used voice assistant in the world.
Dave Limp, the head of Amazon devices, showcased a live demo of Alexa’s new large language model (LLM), the engine behind its enhanced features.
Alexa now responds without requiring a wake word initially and can seamlessly pick up a conversation after breaks, storing conversational themes and context for later recall.
.@alexa99 is there to offer personalized help, like any true friend would be.🧡Now, Alexa will adapt to your cues and be able to adjust its tone and response to express things like affirmation, excitement, laughter, or even surprise! pic.twitter.com/fUwca2F1Fu
— Amazon (@amazon) September 20, 2023
Limp said it’d be “just like talking to another human being” and pointed out that while many were skeptical about smart speakers when they first came out, nearly half of US and UK households own one now.
According to Limp, generative AI would “drive an entirely new Alexa experience,” resulting in a “smarter and more conversational” assistant.
Limp also highlighted the assistant’s new ability to react to more vague prompts and inferences, comparing the upgraded Alexa experience to “talking to a friend.”
For instance, saying “I’m cold” would prompt Alexa to turn on the heating system in a connected home.
Despite offering no public generative AIs like Microsoft and Google, Amazon offers a variety of products and tools for developers looking to build machine learning models through Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AI has been fundamental to Amazon’s success, helping them develop powerful product recommendation systems for their world-leading eCommerce store.
Amazon hasn’t announced a general release date for their new Alexa devices, but it probably won’t be too long before they hit the shelves.
Ben Wood, Chief Analyst at CCS Insight, stated that Amazon’s focus on upgrading Alexa is unsurprising. “It undoubtedly knows that it needs to keep pace with rivals such as Google and Microsoft,” he said.
Wood also commented that the success of the upgrade would hinge on consumers engaging differently with Echo devices, moving away from basic requests.
“Some users may find it a little intimidating, but if successful it could make interactions a lot more conversational,” Wood added.
Alongside the new Alexa, Amazon introduced a selection of new hardware, including multiple new Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers, smart home hubs, and updated Fire tablets.
Discussions surrounding generative AI have primarily swelled around Microsoft, Google, Meta, and newcomer OpenAI, with Amazon and Apple keeping their cards up their sleeves.
Apple recently announced the iPhone 15’s features, including some subtle but intriguing AI-driven functionality.
This announcement from Amazon illustrates a somewhat similar consumer-product-driven strategy to AI implementation.
There are only so many chatbots one can use, after all.