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Amazon Alexa Can Now Ask Follow-Up Questions

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Alexa will now try to infer what you want to do.

As cool as smart speakers are, using them can be a bit of an unwieldy process. You ask your question in a loud and clear voice, the speaker responds. You make a separate request in a loud and clear voice, the speaker does so. It’s not so much an artificial intelligence as it is just making inputs with your voice. Thanks to Amazon’s new updates on Echo speakers, though, Alexa has gotten a little closer to a proper thinking AI.

Alongside the release of the Alexa Care Hub, designed for the convenience of elderly users, Amazon has released a new update to Alexa’s firmware that allows her to ask follow-up questions to your request. For example, if you ask how long it takes to cook something, Alexa will give you the approximate time, and then follow-up by asking if you’d like to set a timer for that particular length. This is accomplished through some updates to Alexa’s general algorithms, as well as her deep learning capabilities. She won’t be capable of this out of the box, but the more you use Alexa, the more she can guess your general intent based on past experiences.

“Amazon’s goal for Alexa is that customers should find interacting with her as natural as interacting with another human being,” Amazon wrote in a blog post. “While [apps] may experience different results, our early metrics show that latent goal [inference] has increased customer engagement with some developers’ apps.”

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Apparently, making this happen took a lot of doing from Alexa’s engineers. In the prototype stages of this update, Alexa would frequently draw understandable, but completely unrelated conclusions, such as asking if she should make chicken noises in response to a request for a chicken recipe. While we’re not quite at full conversational status just yet, this new update does make Alexa a little more practical, provided it works correctly.