Amazon looks to adapt Alexa to the rise of ChatGPT | CNN Business
For years, Alexa has been synonymous with virtual assistants that can interact with users and perform tasks on their behalf.
Now Amazon is trying to keep pace with a new wave of conversational AI tools that have accelerated the AI arms race in the tech industry and rapidly reshaped what consumers can expect from its products technological
Amazon’s goal is to use AI “to create this great personal assistant,” Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services, said in a recent interview with CNN. “We’ve been using all forms of AI for a long time, but now that we see this emergence of generative AI, we can accelerate that vision even faster.”
Generative AI refers to a type of AI that can create new content, such as text and images, in response to user prompts. Limp didn’t elaborate on how generative AI might be used in Alexa products, but the possibilities are clear.
In theory, this technology could one day help Alexa have more natural conversations with users, answer more complex questions, and be more creative by telling stories or making up song lyrics in seconds. It could also enable more personalized interactions, allowing the assistant to learn about the device owner’s interests, preferences, and better tailor its responses to each person.
“We’re not done and we won’t be until Alexa is as good or better than the ‘Star Trek’ computer,” Limp said. “And to be able to do that, it has to be conversational. It has to know everything. It has to be the true source of knowledge for everything”.
Alexa launched nearly a decade ago and, along with Siri, Cortana and other voice assistants, seemed poised to change the way people interact with technology. But ChatGPT’s viral success has made it faster and across a wider range of everyday products.
The effort to continue updating the technology that powers Alexa comes at a difficult time for Amazon. Like other Big Tech companies, Amazon is now cutting staff and shedding products in an urgent effort to cut costs amid broader economic uncertainty. The Alexa division hasn’t come out unscathed.
Amazon confirmed plans in January to lay off more than 18,000 employees as the global economic outlook continued to worsen. In March, the company said about 9,000 more jobs would be affected. Limp said his division lost about 2,000 people, about half of whom were from the Alexa team.
Amazon also shuttered some of the products it created before the pandemic, such as its wearable fitness brand Halo, which allowed users to ask Alexa questions about their health and well-being. Limp said the company also shelved some “riskier” projects. “I wouldn’t doubt we’ll dust them off at some point and get them back,” he said. “We’re still taking a lot of risks in this organization.”
But Limp said Alexa remains a “North Star” for her division. “To give you an idea, there are still thousands and thousands of people working on Alexa,” he said.
In fact, Amazon is still investing in Alexa and its related Echo line of smart speakers. last week, the company introduced several new products, including the $39.99 Echo Pop and the $89.99 Echo Show 5, its smart speaker with a display. While the products come with incremental updates, Limp said Amazon’s current lineup contains hints of what’s to come with its AI efforts, beyond generative AI.
For example, if Alexa is enabled on an Echo Show, where it can turn and follow users around the room, “you’re going to see illumination of where it’s going to go over the next few months and years,” Limp said.
But generative AI remains a key focus for the company. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said in a letter to shareholders in April that the company is focused on “investing heavily” in technology “across all of our consumer experiences, sellers, brands and creators”.
The company is reportedly working on adding a similar search to ChatGPT capabilities for your e-commerce store. Amazon is also rumored to be planning to use generative AI to bring conversational language to a home robot.
While Limp would not comment on the report, he said the ultimate goal has long been for Alexa to communicate with users in a fluid and natural way, whether through an Echo device or other products like the his robotic dog, Astro.
The concept remains a “tough technical challenge,” he said, but is “more manageable” with generative AI. “There are still some difficult cases and things to be resolved,” he said.