Right on the heels of Prime Day last week came Amazon's second quarter earnings report, which the financial analyst types lauded as a blowout... even if it came up a bit light on expected revenues. And those numbers didn't even include the estimated $4 billion in Prime Day sales. Read also: Big Bezos: Amazon Alexa controls my entire freakin' house Believe me, these are just a few of the Alexa/Echo highlights mentioned in the release. In fact, the only quotes in the release attributed to Bezos focus solely on Alexa. And the Alexa "wherever they are" message resonated with many people and led to speculation that maybe Amazon is going back to the drawing board to take another stab at selling its own smartphones.
Amazon's Alexa recently made headlines for one of the strangest consumer AI mistakes we've ever heard of: A family in Portland, Oregon claims that the company's virtual assistant recorded a conversation and sent it to a seemingly random person in the husband's contact list. Alexa didn't just make one slip-up -- it made several that, when combined, led to a pretty remarkable breach of privacy. The company's explanation, provided to news outlets yesterday, makes clear just how unlikely this whole situation was: "Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like'Alexa,'" the statement reads. "Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?"
I'm writing this while watching the Republicans gather for their quadrennial excuse to wear cheese hats and paper mache giant Ronald Reagan heads. I get a twisted sort of morbid glee when politics goes very, very wrong. That's why I had such high hopes for this week. But after watching Donald Trump officially get nominated without the evening going completely off the rails, I felt slightly let down. As a political commentator, chaos like we've had this election season comes around very rarely.
On Friday, we first reported that Amazon had added the ability for users to give voice commands to Alexa via the Alexa app on Android phones. While the Alexa app has been around since the devices were first released, it's previously been used for setting up Alexa, not talking to her. Big Brother may not be watching us, but Alexa is certainly listening in. David Gewirtz reports on the slightly creepy feeling he's been getting, along with the benefits of a ubiquitous voice assistant. TechCrunch reported that a similar update for the iPhone app is on the way, but appears to be delayed due to Apple's App Store vetting process.
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.