Alexa is installed on over 100 million devices around the globe, acquiring billions of user queries in the process. Like all digital assistants, Alexa relies on data models to offer better responses, but it looks like Amazon also gave the digital assistant a helping hand in the form of human reviews. An investigation by Bloomberg has revealed that Amazon has a global team that transcribes and annonates Alexa recordings from around to world to "eliminate gaps in Alexa's understanding of human speech" and allow the assistant to serve up better responses to your queries.
The publication found that Amazon employs thousands of people around the world — both contractors and full-time employees — to review Alexa recordings, with teams spread out across Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania. According to an unnamed source, each reviewer parses over 1,000 audio clips over a nine-hour shift, annotating them and feeding them back to the system to improve Alexa's responses. From Bloomberg:
The publication also found that employees come across recordings that are of a disturbing nature:
The recordings don't have a user's full name or address, but they do include the user's first name, an account number, and the device's serial number. Amazon has previously mentioned that it relies on natural language processing to train Alexa, but it has admitted to Bloomberg that it uses a human element to annotate a "small sample of Alexa voice recordings:"
It's not just Amazon that's turning to humans helpers to develop its digital assistant. Bloomberg found that Apple also has a human team that checks whether Siri's interpretation of requests matches what was asked by users. Google has reviewers that train Assistant, but the clips don't have any personally identifiable information and the audio itself is distorted to prevent any identification.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.