Here’s how Alexa is about to get much smarter, and more helpful
Amazon has revealed plans for making its assistant more intelligent in three key ways
In the coming months, Amazon will be upgrading Alexa's intelligence to make the voice-controlled assistant smarter and easier to use.
During a talk given at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon, France this week, Ruhi Sarikaya, head of the Amazon Brain group, said how these improvements will cover three areas.
The first is called Skills Arbitration, and is where Alexa will look up, install and run a 'skill' - the word for an Alexa app - without being asked specifically to do so. At the moment, users need to ask Alexa to find a certain skill, or look for it themselves through the Alexa smartphone app, then add it to their assistant. Occasionally, when Alexa cannot help directly she will suggest you install a certain skill.
In the coming weeks, Sarikaya says US users of Alexa will see this process simplified. As an example, Sarikaya said in a blog post: "Using an Echo Show device, I recently asked: 'Alexa, how do I remove an oil stain from my shirt?' She replied: 'Here is Tide Stain Remover." This video-based skill then walked Sarikaya through the steps (on the display of an Echo Sho) to remove oil from his shirt. Before, he would have had to discover the skill for himself to use it.
The second upgrade coming to Alexa soon is called Context Carryover and will make talking with Alexa feel more natural and less like conversing with a robot. Currently, Alexa can understand some elements of turn-taking conversation, such as asking about an artist's latest album, then saying "play it" and Alexa understanding that "it" refers to the album.
Soon, Alexa users in the US, UK and Germany will see this enhanced. For example, ask: "Alexa, how is the weather in Seattle?" then, after she has told you that, Alexa will keep listening for a moment. You can then say: "What about this weekend?" and she will understand that you are still referring to the weather in Seattle.
Google Assistant can already do this, but Amazon is going to take it a step further by making Alexa understand when you switch to a different topic. For example, say: "Alexa, how's the weather in Portland?" and she will answer, but then ask: "How long does it take to get there?" and she will provide travel times from your current location. This is something Google Assistant cannot currently do.
Sarikaya said: "We are providing this more natural way of engaging with Alexa by adding deep learning models to our spoken language understanding pipeline that allows us to carry customers' intent and entities within and across domain, i.e., between weather and traffic."
The third improvement coming soon to Alexa is to do with her memory. The assistant will be able to "remember any information for you", like friend's birthdays or anything else you tell her. Sarikaya said: "This memory feature is the first of many launches this year that will make Alexa more personalized. It's early days, but with this initial release we will make it easier for customers to save information, as well as provide a natural way to recall that information later."