In addition to a new orb-shaped Echo speaker and a slew of other news today, Amazon announced new Alexa capabilities that might make the assistant seem more human. Soon, you’ll be able to correct Alexa when it’s misunderstood you by saying “Alexa, that’s wrong” or “Alexa, stop.” When it realizes it made a mistake, the assistant will correct itself or ask a question to “fill gaps in her understanding.” Amazon calls this feature Teachable AI, and it could help make Alexa much smarter and more powerful over time.
The teaching capability will roll out first to smart home devices in the coming months and expand “to other areas in the future,” Amazon said. It’ll be helpful for situations when, say, you have a favorite brightness setting for your bedroom lamp that Alexa doesn’t know yet. When you ask the assistant to turn your light on to your favorite level, Alexa can ask what it is and remember it for the future.
In tandem with the teachable feature, Alexa is also going to sound more like a real person with pauses and even taking breaths when it’s talking to you. This builds on Amazon’s Neural Text-to-Speech technology launched last year for more natural-sounding voices. Alexa will adapt its responses based on the context of the conversation and adjust her tone or stressing certain words, too. Amazon calls this “speaking style adaptation” and believes these changes will “offer new and delightful experiences” when it starts rolling this out later this year.
Amazon also introduced a new feature called Natural Turn Taking that is similar to Google Assistant’s Continued Conversations but with more uses. It’ll let you start a session where you can speak to Alexa without a wake word and talk to the assistant as if it were a person in your party. For example, after you say “Alexa, join my conversation,” your device becomes another member in your group discussion as you’re deciding what to order for dinner. Amazon says the assistant uses a combination of linguistic, visual and acoustic cues to determine when someone is talking to Alexa, then use the context of what was said to determine its response. So if you you’re looking at your Echo Show and asked a question, Alexa will know it should offer an answer. Amazon said this “transformative capability” will arrive next year.
New family-friendly features
Parents may also appreciate the new voice profiles for children feature that will let Alexa shift to the Kids Alexa experience when it recognizes the young ones. This experience includes kid-friendly responses, games, skills, book and music. Those who already use Amazon Kids+ will also see their children’s favorite premium skills and Audible books carry over on the experience. A preview of voice profiles will start rolling out in the coming months, Amazon said, and be available on all devices, not just the Echo Dot Kids Edition.
You can also ask Alexa to help with storytime. Amazon introduced a feature called Reading Sidekick that will have the Assistant take turns reading from supported books with a child and listen for how well they’re doing. It’ll offer encouragement and praise if your kid’s doing great, and provide support if they’re struggling.
The company is also rolling out tools to help with the older people in your life. A new Care Hub will let you set up a connection between two Alexa accounts, then view a high-level activity feed and set up alerts if the device detects no activity by a certain time of day. Your relative can also designate you as an emergency contact to be pinged when they ask “Alexa, call for help.”
Amazon is taking your privacy a bit more seriously and will give you more control over the voice data it keeps. Just like you can with the Google Assistant, you’ll now be able to ask Alexa about your privacy settings or tell it to “Delete everything I’ve said” later this year. You can also pick the setting that doesn’t save your voice recordings, which means they’ll be automatically deleted after each request has been processed.