- Amazon is close to rolling out new features for its Alexa virtual assistant, including the ability to remember information at a user’s request, to engage in more natural conversations, and to launch skills automatically in response to relevant questions rather than waiting for a user to request a specific skill, according to a TechCrunch story.
- The new capabilities stem from the company’s Alexa Brain Initiative, a project focused on adding new features to the assistant that allow it to have richer conversations, accomplish more within the context of conversations and activate skills more quickly, TechCrunch reported.
- Ruhi Sarikaya, who leads the Alexa Brain Initiative, announced the upcoming feature upgrades at The Web Conference this week in Lyon, France. In a post on the Alexa developer blog, Sarikaya said Amazon is "obsessively focused on reducing or eliminating friction." The new capabilities are expected to launch soon.
The coming capabilities seem like a natural step in the virtual assistant’s evolution. As users have become more comfortable with Alexa, it makes tremendous sense that the assistant should, via a technology upgrade, become more comfortable with them. Remembering things that have been discussed and speaking in a more conversational way — rather than just robotically answering questions, playing requested music and ordering items from Amazon upon request — would help those interactions evolve.
This announcement comes about eight months after Amazon veteran Tom Taylor became the new head of Alexa development, a change which also came as Amazon was reported to have intensified its efforts to hire new engineers to work on Alexa-related projects. Amazon also in recent months was reported to be developing its own artificial intelligence chips to improve Alexa’s performance, though it’s not clear that work is related in any way to these new capabilities.
While Amazon’s Echo devices equipped with Alexa continue to dominate the market for smart speaker devices with voice-activated assistant capabilities, Alexa also needs to keep getting better to keep a growing list of competitors at bay. Chief among these competitors is Google Assistant, which some expect to post market share gains against Alexa this year. Google Assistant also already had a feature allowing it to remember information, which may have lent urgency to Amazon’s effort to introduce something similar.
But, regardless of competition, Amazon may simply be looking to make Alexa so easy to use that it’s like talking to another person in your household or business, rather than a virtual assistant. Making it easier to find and launch skills means greater value to users, which of course means a stronger customer relationship for Amazon, likely along with more revenue in the long run.