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.
When Alexa doesn't know the answer to a question, many of us just give up, or just end up looking for the answer on our phone. Not one to leave loose ends untied is Amazon, which is rolling out a feature called Answer Update on Alexa devices this week, spotted by Voicebox. SEE ALSO: 'SNL' and'It's Always Sunny' writers lend their talents to a new anti-theft Alexa app The feature will alert users when Alexa has found the answer to a question it previously did not know when initially asked. Usually when the voice assistant is stumped, it'll return an answer like "I don't know that, but I'm always learning," "I can't find the answer to the question I heard," or "Sorry, I didn't understand the question." Now if you turn on Answer Update, it'll reply with "If you ask me a question and I don't know the answer but I find out later, I'll notify you."
Google's going to need to show some commitment and unity to succeed with Google Assistant. Assistant needs to weather low early adoption by consumers and developers because it won't be available on all Android phones initially. If Assistant makes it through early troubles without losing momentum inside Google, Google's success with Chromecast ( 30 million sold) provides it use cases Alexa doesn't have. If Google hopes to succeed, expect to see aggressive promotion for Home this holiday and big name third party integration announcements for Assistant - though maybe not from Samsung given its Viv acquisition. There may even be a developer program aimed at closing the gap to Alexa's 3000 "skills."
Amazon is launching a new program that will let its customers answer some of the questions Alexa can't answer on its own. It's called Alexa Answers and starting today, the company will begin inviting select customers to field some of the more difficult questions posed to Amazon's assistant. "While Alexa can answer the vast majority of questions customers are asking every day," Bill Barton, Amazon's VP of Alexa Information, wrote in a blog post, "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?'" The company has been testing the Alexa Answers program internally, and in the past month, it has added more than 100,000 responses. Going forward, customers who have been invited to participate will be able to scroll through topic categories on the Alexa Answers website, choose questions they want to answer and submit a response.