Alexa is starting to ask questions. How should we answer?


In the future, products such as Amazon Echo Studio will feature software give-and-take interactions.

Sara Tew / CNET

Two years ago, Amazon announced a new feature for Alexa: the ability to ask questions. hunches, As he is called, has rolled slowly since the announcement, and it is now fairly common to hear Alexa out of her old “answer questions, obey command” routine. The voice assistant usually asks these questions as a follow-up Your Orders or questions, and they are trying to anticipate your requests as a result of Alexa – for example, reminding you to close the door at night.

Hunch is only the beginning.

During july Alexa Live Developers Conference, Amazon announced another new upgrade: a day-to-day conversation with a voice assistant. Tools for this kind of interaction are already being implemented by third-party developers and it would not be surprising to hear Alexa, in the next few months, start asking follow-up questions after placing a general order.

These may sound like incremental improvements, but they can dramatically change how we understand and use voice assistants. After all, we’ve seen movies in which AI has feasted with its creators, but some of us have spent time wondering if we would actually think Want to Each morning spend more time chatting over coffee with Alexa. And more importantly, we have not been able to cope adequately with the cost of such progress.

Power of alexa

Talking about the huge crowds of data companies like Amazon and Google these days is almost to be avoided, but this data is the fuel that powers the cosmic engine of the smart home – and Alexa is the fracking mechanism to collect it.

Amazon’s release of Echo Dot with Clock last year gave a small window into the usefulness of such data: Alexa questions about the time of day more than a billion times per year, so Amazon answers that question Built a device for giving. This is simple supply and demand, but where Amazon can increase demand with unprecedented accuracy.

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The 2019 Echo Dot with the watch represents Amazon’s data-gathering tool in action.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Now, Amazon is testing more proactive behaviors for Alexa, on occasion supporting early users – and the company can track the success rate in those forecasts in real-time. According to Amazon Daniel Rauch’s vice president of smart home, people are responding positively (i.e. confirming Alexa’s suggested actions) “most of the time.”

Rauch and I spoke on the phone before the July conference and were as enthusiastic as ever about innovations in the voice-driven smart home space. He said more developers than ever are designing Alexa skills and devices to work with voice assistants – over 750,000 were registered for the conference – and cheaper to include Alexa-compatibility in any given device Is, at the jaw dropping $ 4.

An increase in third-party development means instant feedback loops, in which Amazon can roll out features, test them, and get instant customer feedback data, increasing value only for Amazon – especially when They make a deep push into the uncharted consumer sector.

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Alexa’s app, Echo Auto and Amazon’s voice assistant for other out-of-home devices is making itself more at home than home.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Perhaps, like the hours of time we spend on our phones each day, we will never arrive at a new criterion to seriously consider time, to seriously consider the path we are taking. Or perhaps, the time is now to consider such things.

Future vision

The EU is currently looking into Google, Amazon and other tech giants Exactly for data-driven market dominance In the smart home space in Europe – though told there is to maintain healthy competition.

Another type of inquiry – formal or informal – is in order: what might be the unexpected consequences of truly expanded voice technology? Is there a way to progress technically without risking such consequences?

Daniel Rauch and others at Amazon usually hesitate to talk about specific goals in the distant future, but the tech giants are making the investment in their voice technology, suggesting that Amazon is pursuing as much as you can think of. Huh. It is a vision that is simultaneously exciting and relatable.

We are unlikely to reach the level of sci-fi Iron man, Moon or his Very soon, but as we become accustomed to a give-and-take mode of interacting with Alexa, we are moving towards voice technology to take a much more central place in our daily lives. As Rausch told me on the phone, Alexa usage has quadrupled in the past two years and the increase in Alexa-usage is non-linear: next year’s growth will likely increase compared to the previous year.

Alexa and other voice assistants find homes in new devices – our control TV, Phone and even Microwave – And as they become more predictable and proactive in their interactions with us, we can dramatically change the sound landscape in a short time.

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The Amazon Basics Microwave is possibly only an early example of what will become commonplace over the next decade: voice-driven devices.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

More precisely: within a year, we can see Alexa (and other voice assistants) hear you walk using capabilities in the kitchen. Alexa Guard (Which can distinguish between humans and pets), ask if you want to heat the oven for your normal lunch and so on – all unpublished. Many customers may be happy for such a feature, even representing the cost of privacy.

It’s not just for privacy: people are turning to voice assistants for information on COVID-19, on mental health, on exercise, and more – and Alexa’s skills to meet such needs, Sometimes provides hundreds of skills. As one Atlantic writer said of the future of voice assistants, “With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient. With their capture of our most intimate places, they will be omnipresent. And confession with their terrifying potential. For. They can gain a remarkable power over our emotional lives. ”

As Alexa changes, so do we. Many of us who regularly use voice assistants are found to have conversations with them. For example, Alexa never understands that I ask for Cabana Taylor’s album KTSE, so I’ll have to play a personal song out of it, then ask the assistant to “play this whole album.” My wife, who convinces Alexa, is sexist to never understand her commands, as well as an assistant who understands mine (“I have more practice,” I always assure her, only to make myself mostly sure Am), much more willing to insult Alexa – and, strangely, to apologize.

I worry about how our three and four year olds will interact with voice assistants and I honestly don’t know that any kind of conversation is “right”.

In short, Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and any other subsidiary have been changing privacy norms, changing culture and changing us.

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The cameras associated with Alexa and other voice assistants only add another layer of dialogue complexity.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Can we protect our privacy – and ourselves – and also experience the convenience afforded by such advances? If we try, it will definitely slow things down – something companies like Amazon are likely to avoid.

The privacy policy, messed up as it may be, is important here. Like a bill CCPA of California (Which only began to be implemented as of July) helps businesses cite businesses for violating users’ privacy or failing to properly notify users about the data being collected on them . With the rapid expansion of voice and smart home technology there is a need to develop living documents with such bills, Alexa and other voice assistants, challenging them where appropriate.

On a personal level, it’s still worth practicing privacy hygiene – if you don’t use them regularly, remove apps from your phone, select strict privacy options from social media and voice assistants, and so on. . More fundamentally, now is the best time to ask ourselves what do we do Want to To see our futures, and how helpful we must be to our lives, our homes and our selves.

Echoes of the past

If a future traveler told us in 2007 Sleep problem And Behavior change Will touch screens enter our lives, should it change the trajectory of our phone innovations from the next thirteen years to 2020?

If the answer is yes, then one more question is worth asking: As we see Amazon actively move towards a future that centers its voice assistant in the home, do we need more to protect our privacy should do?