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.
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?',"
The cheetah can accelerate from zero to 96.6 kph in under three seconds. These cases show where the Google approach gives inferior answers. If you type the first question into Google, you get a "Popular on the web" snippet with photos of several candidates. Google just reads this, even omitting any kind of pause after "web" and before "cheetah." To top it off, the correct answer isn't even in the list it reads, and appears 10th in the list of animals.
When you ask Amazon's Alexa, "What is Wikipedia?" Alexa took this line directly from Wikipedia's entry on Wikipedia, as it does with many of its answers. Perhaps what it should have said was this: "Wikipedia is the source from which I take much of my information, without credit, contribution, or compensation." Amazon recently donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Endowment, a fund that keeps Wikipedia running, as "part of Amazon's and CEO Jeff Bezos' growing work in philanthropy," according to CNET. It's being framed as a "gift," one that--as Amazon puts it--recognizes their shared vision to "make it easier to share knowledge globally."
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.