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Christmas has come early for Amazon Alexa users. The virtual assistant’s latest update means it can better predict customers’ goals and help make remote caregiving easier.
Ideally, interacting with Alexa would be “as natural as interacting with another human being,” according to Amazon, which previously integrated sophisticated conversational experiences into the AI.
Well on its way to reaching the Holy Grail, Amazon this week introduced a skill that lets Alexa infer customers “latent goals”—requests you didn’t even know you wanted to make.
For instance, ask how long it takes to steep tea, and the latent goal could be setting a timer for steeping a cup of tea; Alexa might suggest “Five minutes is a good place to start,” then follow up by asking if you want to set a five-minute timer.
“Transitions like this appear simple,” Amazon AI scientists Anjishnu Kumar and Anand Rathi wrote in a blog post. “But under the hood a number of sophisticated algorithms are running to detect latent goals, formulate them into actions that frequently span different skills, and surface them to customers in a way that doesn’t feel disruptive.”
Obviously, not all conversations come with a latent goal; asking Alexa for “recipes for chicken” does not require a follow up to play chicken sounds (as one initial prototype incorrectly assumed). That responsibility is left up to a deep learning-based trigger model, which factors in various aspects of dialogue context, including whether the user has engaged with multi-skill suggestions in the past.
The function—currently available in English in the US—improves with use; regularly ask about the daily weather forecast, and Alexa could one day automatically offer advice about an umbrella or sunscreen.
When you live alone, plants and smart assistants are often your closest companions—especially during a pandemic that’s forcing families to support aging loved ones from afar. Which is why Amazon launched Care Hub: a set of features designed to simplify remote caregiving.
Your family member or friend will need an Echo or Alexa-enabled device; you can connect via the Alexa mobile app to access alerts, activity feed, and two-way calling. Security measures limit what folks can see, so while you may notice your parents used Alexa for entertainment, you won’t know what song or podcast they listened to, or what command they used.
Perhaps most importantly, Care Hub also serves as an emergency contact solution. In a crisis, simply say, “Alexa, call for help,” and the device will call, text, or send a push notification to the designated confidant.
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