Despite Alexa's extensive information database, there are still thousands of questions that stump the smart assistant. But starting today, Amazon is inviting select users to help answer some of the tough questions that Alexa couldn't. The Alexa Answers feature essentially crowdsources answers from users to expand Alexa's knowledge base. When a user submits an answer, the information is turned into a voice response and given to Alexa customers with the preface, "According to an Amazon customer". "While Alexa can answer the vast majority of questions customers are asking every day, every once in a while, customers throw curve balls at us with various questions like'Where was Barbara Bush buried?' or'Who wrote the score for Lord of the Rings?' or'What's cork made out of?' or'Where do bats go in the winter?',"
Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana can answer all sorts of questions that pop into users' heads, and they're improving every day. But what happens when a company like Amazon decides to crowdsource answers to fill gaps in its platform's knowledge? The result can range from amusing and perplexing to concerning. Alexa Answers allows any Amazon customer to submit responses to unanswered questions. When the web service launched in general availability a few weeks ago, Amazon gave assurances that submissions would be policed through a combination of automatic and manual review.
Amazon has announced a new program for its Echo smart speakers that will put anyone with an Amazon account in charge of answering search queries. The program, called Alexa Answers, will let users browse a list of unanswered questions like'What is the state snack of Texas?' (an example provided by Amazon's own web page) and submit their response. After the answer is entered into the database, the Echo's voice assistant, Alexa, will start relaying it to other users with the same query and an addendum stating that the data is'according to an Amazon customer.' Amazon is now crowd-sourcing answers to users' search queries through its popular smart-speaker, the Echo (pictured above) Participants will enter their answers -- 300 characters or less -- on a dedicated website where they will then compete with other participants to earn points and badges for'good' responses.' The program was officially launched last year, but was invite-only and included a relatively small pool of customers.
When Amazon introduced Alexa in 2014, it quickly discovered that users wanted more than traffic reports and Taylor Swift songs. According to the company, more than 50% of interactions with Alexa are "nonutilitarian and entertainment related," a category that includes professions of love for the female-voiced AI assistant, admissions of loneliness and sadness and requests for a joke. Amazon has sold more than 15 million Echo devices and now owns 75% of the smart-speaker market, according to estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, which puts this company on the front lines of what might be called early-stage AI therapy, in which a device is asked to respond to extremely personal questions and requests by its users. And while experts say that technology companies likely don't have a legal responsibility when it comes to potential user harm, many see an ethical obligation to consider how to help. Amazon is training Alexa to respond to sensitive questions and statements.
Amazon wants to minimize the impediments its customers face in using its services. A new tool for Alexa skills that is described in Amazon's developer blog enables the smart voice assistant to answer customers' natural language questions. Soon users won't need to query using the prescribed "Alexa-speak." The company's goal is to make Alexa friction-free. Similar to one-click ordering, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Go, removing barriers to customer interaction with Alexa will encourage more engagement.