Amazon has announced a major upgrade coming soon to Alexa, its popular voice assistant technology. The company revealed it is integrating a new large language model (LLM) to enable more natural conversations and intuitive smart home control. This marks Alexa's transition into the era of generative AI.
According to Amazon devices chief Dave Limp, the new Alexa LLM is optimized specifically for voice interactions in the home. While it shares some capabilities with chatbots like ChatGPT, Alexa's model focuses on skills like seamless smart home device control and serving up real-time information—all conversationally.
The main goal is to make interactions with Alexa more akin to talking with a human. Key upgrades powered by the generative AI include more conversational responses, discerning context and intent, completing multiple requests in one command, and creating routines on the fly.
The new Alexa will understand casual phrases and commands that don't use Alexa's wake words or follow rigid syntax. Requests like "Alexa, I'm cold" should adjust the smart thermostat accordingly. Its knowledge of hundreds of device APIs and in-home context clues allows more inference of what users implicitly want.
Alexa will also get better at following the flow of conversations and interpreting context. Users can make pronoun references or incomplete commands and Alexa will follow based on recent topics. For example, after asking about a museum's hours, users can simply ask "What about parking?" without repeating the museum name.
Currently, Alexa handles basic sequential requests like "Turn off the lights and lock the door." But the upgrade allows chaining more complex commands together in one long sentence. For instance, "Alexa, turn on the sprinklers, open the garage door, and turn off the outdoor lights."
Users will be able to build custom smart home routines completely via voice commands. Limp gave an example of saying "Alexa, every morning at 8AM turn on the lights, play music in my kid's room, and start the coffeemaker." Alexa then automatically programs this routine without manual setup in the app.
Amazon is taking a gradual approach to rolling out the new AI capabilities. A preview program launching in the coming months will allow interested users to opt-in and try the new features. The preview will start only in the U.S. on a subset of Alexa devices and expand over time as Amazon gathers feedback.
Beyond improvements to Alexa's core functions, Amazon unveiled AI developer tools allowing Alexa to understand custom commands for third-party products. For example, Alexa could activate special lighting scenes or start robot vacuums when users make conversational requests like "make it look spooky" or "the floor is dirty."
While intriguing, Amazon acknowledges the risks involved with generative AI. The company emphasizes privacy protections remain paramount and pledges to give users transparency and control. With great power comes great responsibility.
For now, as we await the broader rollout of these new features, one thing is clear: Alexa is on the verge of transforming from a handy tool into a truly intelligent assistant, and the smart home experience will never be the same again.