Alexa may soon do more than follow commands — Amazon's voice assistant may be able to ask questions of you too. The ability, called Alexa Conversations, is now in the hands of developers, who are beta testing the feature which allows Amazon's A.I. to respond back to people.
The new way of communicating isn't a free for all though: Alexa's not going to strike up a chat with someone on its own. (Yet.) Instead, Alexa Conversations permits the voice assistant to ask a follow question.
You could, for example, ask Alexa to turn on your smart lights. Alexa could respond by asking if you want them at full brightness or lower. Or if ordering a pizza, switch the order from a medium to a large — and have Alexa understand that shift, without you needing to start the entire order over again. The goal, noted Amazon, is to create a more natural conversation between someone and the voice assistant.
Alexa could respond to your request to turn on the lights, by asking how bright you'd like them Getty Images/iStockphoto
Creating a conversational flow is something both Amazon and Google have been focused on over the past few years with voice assistants. Google famously showed the ability of Google Assistant to make restaurant reservations in 2018 through a feature called Duplex.
The ability, which was designed to make Google Assistant sound more human, even peppered its conversations with "ups" and "has," those little breaks in flow that people do use when pausing as they speak.
With Alexa, Amazon is giving developers pre-set tools, including training data and already created paths to help them build a conversational flow for their specific product and app.
The new Alexa Conversations feature is first testing in the U.S., noted Amazon. And the company has already done some early trials with OpenTable, Uber and Atom Tickets. One company working with Amazon now is iRobot, which make robot vacuum cleaners including the Roomba i7+. The company is testing how people can ask more complicated, multi-path, requests of Alexa that go beyond turning on the vacuum, but asking — in one request — to clean just the kitchen, every day at 8 am, for example.
As smart assistants get better at understanding how people speak naturally, rather than requiring customers make requests in halted, artificial requests, the assumption is they'll adopt more voice-driven devices. Amazon is clearly working towards that goal, where Alexa is the voice AI people choose.
Echo (3rd Gen)- Smart speaker with Alexa- Charcoal