Alexa is now letting really anyone feed her the answers to the questions we ask. Called Alexa Answers, the feature was in a small beta but was just opened to anyone who wants type up answers to questions, according to Fast Company. Think questions from 'What is the tilt of the Earth?' to 'Where is the deepest part of Lake Erie?' Who determines which answer is correct? Well, that would be anyone.
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The site Alexa Answers is easily found on Amazon, and if you're an Amazon user — and logged in — you'll get a welcome immediately with your user name. There are questions presented to you directly, some the Amazon algorithm thinks you can answer (mine we're mostly about New York), and others that you're welcome to take at stab at answering as well.
You can also post questions, and rate on whether you think the answers provided are solid, on a scale of 1 to 5. Yes, you'd be correct that this is a way of crowdsourcing information, much the way Wikipedia has worked for years.
However, in Wikipedia's case, people who add to a page need to provide footnotes and sources for that information. None of that is happening on Alexa Answers. Even more key, GearBrain went through some of the answers being pushed out by Alexa, and found experts that had different takes.
Amazon clearly, though, wants people to spend time coming up with the answers for the site. These are answers fed to Alexa users when the voice assistant may not have a response at the ready.
Now, if Alexa feeds an answer from the new answer feature, it will say, "According to an Amazon customer…" and then read the answer. An Amazon customer is now your source for how many calories are in a large avocado, how many Grammy's Gladys Knight won and an entire plethora of questions.
Those who come up with answers earn points for how many times Alexa reads it, what people think of the answer, and if people think the answer was not helpful. You can even earn badges as you provide more answers, turning the experience into a game.
Each answer earns points, helping to boost the responseGearBrain
Am I right or wrong?
But the answers? Let's take a look at an easy one. A crowdsourced answer of 234 calories is provided to the question, 'How many calories are in a large avocado?' Sourcing? None. But the answer already has six points.
So we wandered over to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database to see what they consider the calorie count for an avocado. Whether it's from Florida or California, the USDA believes there is about 322 calories in an avocado that's 201 grams.
To be fair, 90 calories here or there is not a big deal. But we had a hard time on the USDA's site finding any answer that stated 234 calories.
How many calories are in an avocado? It depends on who is answering: Alexa or the USDA Getty Images/iStockphoto
Next up? What is cork made of? Here we found four different answers, and when we asked Alexa through our Echo Dot this very question, she selected one that appeared, almost verbatim twice, with one answer written by someone with a whopping 1141 points (clearly the expert here):
"According to an Amazon customer, cork is the inner layer of bark on a type of oak tree, commonly known as the cork oak, which grows in southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa," said Alexa. "The bark can be harvested from a mature cork oak tree every 9 years, after which the bark grows back. The trees can live for 300 years."
Sound good? Well, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens — a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than 50,000 living plants — slightly disagrees, saying the tree can live up to 250 years, and can be harvested every 9 to 12 years. Fifty year difference? That's sizable.
We then checked with the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit that's pretty highly rated with Charity Watch, which said the tree actually lives up to 200 years. A century? That's a big deal.
While we likely doubt people will use their Alexa as the source for research papers, we do think there's something to be said about letting your answers to questions come from, well, anyone.
Alexa does inform users when these answers are being fed by someone from the Alexa Answer site, or not. But should you be looking for answers you need to know are correct, rather than something that may have been invented by a guy, bored, at a bar stool, you might want to look elsewhere.Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Amazon Alexa enabled devices.
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