Amazon is doing a lot more to help Alexa predict what you need and ask you about it, execs tell us

  • Amazon on Wednesday previewed a new type of skill for Alexa that it calls Alexa Conversations.
  • Conversations is a tool for app developers that makes it easier for them to create skills (or apps) for the device with less code.
  • However, Alexa Conversations promise to do more than the average skill: It lets Alexa proactively string together skills in a single conversation and ask you about them.
  • The first Alexa Conversation is called “book an evening out.”
  • Read more on Business Insider’s homepage.

Amazon on Wednesday previewed a new type of skill for its Alexa voice assistant, dubbed Alexa Conversations.

Conversations is a tool for app developers that makes it easier for them to create skills (or apps) for the device with far less code. Not only does it limit the amount of programming that they must do, but it also helps the device converse with users more naturally, even if the programmer didn’t code in all the possible responses.

But its real value is that it lets Alexa proactively string together skills in a single conversation and ask you about them.

The first Alexa Conversation the Amazon team created is called “book an evening out.” Amazon vice president and head scientist of Alexa Rohit Prasad previewed this functionality on stage Wednesday at the company’s inaugural re:MARS robotics and AI show in Las Vegas.

The demo involved a person asking Alexa to buy movie tickets via Atom, a popular app for the same. After that transaction, Alexa asked if the person would be going to dinner near the theatre, brought up nearby restaurant recommendations and booked a reservation via OpenTable. And then Alexa asked if the person wanted to order an Uber for the date night and took care of that as well

Prasad didn’t say when this skill would be widely available on devices, but the company made a preview of the development technology available to programmers as of Wednesday.

In an interview with Business Insider, Amazon Smart Home VP Daniel Rausch said that conversations is just the latest way that the company is trying to make Alexa more proactive.

Daniel rausch amazon ifa 2018IFA press / IMGAmazon Vice president Daniel Rausch

Also on tap is an Alexa that can learn from your use of the device and make predictions on what you need based on what’s going on, or what room you are in.

Rausch highlights features like Alexa Guard, a new feature that listens for sounds like glass breaking or a fire alarm. If Alexa hears these things it can wake you up, tell you about the noise, and ask you if you want it take action in response.

Amazon has also launched a feature called “hunches,” which is when Alexa notices that something is out of sorts. For instance, if it sees you haven’t locked your doors before going to bed, Rausch said.

Rausch tells us there are now 60,000 Alexa-enabled smart home devices in the market.

Hints of what comes next

Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices & Services, the engineer generally credited for spearheading Alexa, told reporters on Wednesday during a press conference that he’s also testing a smarter version of Alexa in his home. This version understands what you want based on what room you are in.

“As you can imagine, I have a very Alexa-fied home,” Limp said, explaining that he has an Alexa in almost every room of his house and also a bunch of third-party Alexa products.

“If I walk into a room of my house, I don’t have to say, ‘Turn lights on in kitchen or living room,'” he explained. After a one-time setup, the Alexa in the room “understands context” and knows to turn the lights on in that room ” I can say watch ‘X,Y,Z on Netflix’ and it knows what room I’m in” and what TV to turn on, he said.

The tech behind this smarter Alexa is “early innings but a lot work of a bunch of teams is going on,” Limp said.

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