Talking to Amazon’s Alexa may soon seem a little less like a one-way conversation. Instead of you having to say “Alexa…” to start a dialogue, Amazon’s voice assistant may initiate conversations itself.
Alexa-enabled devices might soon let users receive push notifications like they’d get on their phones, but out loud, according to numerous reports. For example, Alexa could alert you when your laundry is done, or if your security camera spotted someone. Those notifications can lead users to ask more detailed questions, in effect creating a dialogue between Alexa and its user.
If you’ve been using Alexa for a while, chances are, she already knows a lot about you. She listens to and records what you say in order to learn about you and tailor her responses, both immediately, and for future use, a basic premise behind artificial intelligence in general.
There are a few hurdles Amazon may have to jump so that Alexa can engage in more human-like conversations. For one, the ability to sense a person’s tone of voice, whether they’re annoyed, happy or angry, would be key, and it shouldn’t be too difficult; some automated phone systems can already do that.
Amazon has set aside $100 million to help fund improvements to automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding, as well as Alexa-enabled third-party devices,
Additionally, Alexa will have to learn when are appropriate times to start talking; You might not want her to interrupt your movie to let you know that you have a new Twitter follower, but you would want her to alert you if an intruder was detected.
In the meantime, Amazon’s competitors are making strides of their own. Google’s Assistant—found in its Google Home device—can answer complex questions with multiple parts as well as follow-up questions. And robots like Softbank’s Pepper robot and Toyota’s Kirobi Mini can already sense emotions.
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