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News Link • Surveillance

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

• Technology Review by Karen Hao

I started using Alexa before it was cool. I bought a first-generation Echo a few months after its launch because Amazon.com showed me a banner ad as I was shopping for new speakers. After it arrived, my then-roommate, a software engineer at Google, eagerly compared Alexa's capabilities with those of her Google Assistant. Alexa didn't really measure up. But as far as I was concerned, it did everything I wanted: it played my favorite songs, sounded my morning alarms, and sometimes told me the news and weather.

Five years later, my simple desires have been eclipsed by Amazon's ambitions. Alexa is now distributed everywhere, capable of controlling more than 85,000 smart home products from TVs to doorbells to earbuds. It can execute over 100,000 "skills" and counting. It processes billions of interactions a week, generating huge quantities of data about your schedule, your preferences, and your whereabouts. Alexa has turned into an empire, and Amazon is only getting started.

Speaking with MIT Technology Review, Rohit Prasad, Alexa's head scientist, has now revealed further details about where Alexa is headed next. The crux of the plan is for the voice assistant to move from passive to proactive interactions. Rather than wait for and respond to requests, Alexa will anticipate what the user might want. The idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life. This will require Alexa to get to know you better than ever before.

In fact Prasad, who will outline his vision for Alexa's future at WebSummit in Lisbon, Portugal, later today, has already given the world a sneak preview of what this shift might look like. In June at the re:Mars conference, he demoed a feature called Alexa Conversations, showing how it might be used to help you plan a night out. Instead of manually initiating a new request for every part of the evening, you would need only to begin the conversation—for example, by asking to book movie tickets. Alexa would then follow up to ask whether you also wanted to make a restaurant reservation or call an Uber.


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