Inside Amazon's plan for Alexa to run your entire life
Comment of the Day

November 08 2019

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Inside Amazon's plan for Alexa to run your entire life

This article by Karen Hao for the MIT Technology Review may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In another scenario, you might ask Alexa through your communal home Echo to send you a notification if your flight is delayed. When it’s time to do so, perhaps you are already driving. Alexa needs to realize (by identifying your voice in your initial request) that you, not a roommate or family member, need the notification—and, based on the last Echo-enabled device you interacted with, that you are now in your car. Therefore, the notification should go to your car rather than your home.

This level of prediction and reasoning will also need to account for video data as more and more Alexa-compatible products include cameras. Let’s say you’re not home, Prasad muses, and a Girl Scout knocks on your door selling cookies. The Alexa on your Amazon Ring, a camera-equipped doorbell, should register (through video and audio input) who is at your door and why, know that you are not home, send you a note on a nearby Alexa device asking how many cookies you want, and order them on your behalf.

To make this possible, Prasad’s team is now testing a new software architecture for processing user commands. It involves filtering audio and visual information through many more layers. First Alexa needs to register which skill the user is trying to access among the roughly 100,000 available. Next it will have to understand the command in the context of who the user is, what device that person is using, and where. Finally it will need to refine the response on the basis of the user’s previously expressed preferences.

“This is what I believe the next few years will be about: reasoning and making it more personal, with more context,” says Prasad. “It’s like bringing everything together to make these massive decisions.”

Eoin Treacy's view

A year ago Google gave a sample of what its artificial intelligence was capable of when it made a restaurant booking for some users by phoning a restaurant and impersonating a person. The company received a great deal of backlash from the liberal media about how much data it had to collect from a person to make that kind of service available and whether the company could be trusted with the information.

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