Amazon tries to make Alexa feel more natural with proactive queries

Alexa TV Hero
Alexa TV Hero (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Alexa is going to be more proactive with skills in response to user queries.
  • It will now recommend skills to customers based on what it thinks they want after it responds to an initial query.
  • Amazon is rolling this out to U.S. English speakers first.

Amazon is working on building out its Alexa digital assistant to be more context-sensitive when responding to user queries. It's rolling out a feature where the assistant will try and guess what you want it to do after making a request. Think of this way; if you ask a waiter for the bill, they would ask if you're paying by cash or card because it's a natural follow-up question. Alexa will apply that logic to relevant queries where it sees fit and bubble up a relevant skill.

Amazon explained:

To determine whether to suggest a latent goal, we use a deep-learning-based trigger model that factors in several aspects of the dialogue context, such as the text of the customer's current session with Alexa and whether the customer has engaged with Alexa's multi-skill suggestions in the past.If the trigger model finds the context suitable, the system suggests a skill to service the latent goal. Those suggestions are based on relationships learned by the latent-goal discovery model. For instance, the model may have discovered that customers who ask how long tea should steep frequently follow up by asking Alexa to set a timer for that amount of time.

Digital assistants have grown to be more conversational and proactive over the years, but this feature strikes as one that could be counterproductive. For instance, one could imagine a scenario where a user gets increasingly annoyed at Alexa constantly inferring latent goals to simple queries to the point that they don't engage with the assistant verbally anymore. Amazon could pre-empt this by adding a toggle, but that would defeat the purpose of this feature.

Building a competent, truly futuristic digital assistant is hard. Doing so while trying not to annoy customers is even harder, and Amazon certainly has its work cut out for it.

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