Amazon's voice assistant Alexa will shortly be boasting a more human-like voice and more natural conversational tone, due to an integration with its very own generative AI large language model (LLM).
The update was announced in Amazon's annual devices bonanza on Wednesday, where a slew of other software and hardware AI updates were also revealed.
Amazon's Alexa's new capabilities mark a massive leap forward in voice assistant technology, but with its unit recently weathering major cuts for poor product performance, the pressure for the AI-powered device to perform is definitely on.
Amazon's Alexa Welcomes New Generative AI LLM
Just like every major tech company in 2023, Amazon has been busy cashing in on the power of generative AI, and this time the company is bringing it to its home devices.
At Amazon's fall hardware event on Wednesday, Rohit Prasad, the company's senior vice president and head scientist for artificial general intelligence announced the rollout of Alexa LLM — a generalized model that has been optimized for voice applications.
Alexa's LLM can talk about any topic, respond to multiple queries at once, intuitively connect with the correct APIs, and even offer tailored recommendations based on recent purchases.
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Aside from the device's new LLM upgrade, it's now even easier to activate Alexa devices, too. In addition to using code words, users can just look at the screen of a camera-enabled Alexa device to turn it on, and its acoustic processing helps it to determine whether a customer is speaking to the device or someone else.
Unlike its former iterations, Alexa will also be able to offer opinions, like which movies should have won an Oscar but didn't, and which type of cuisine it prefers.
Alexa's AI Demo Encounters Some Hiccups
While Amazon's new generative AI features represent an exciting breakthrough in the company's home devices unit, Wednesday's demo wasn't without its tribulations.
When devices chief Dave Limp was trialing the product's new “Let's chat” feature, Alexa lagged in response, and Limp had to repeat his question multiple times to get an answer.
Despite these slight shortcomings, Limp assured consumers that Alexa would be unlikely to display any form of AI hallucination — a phenomenon that other generative AI models — including Google Bard and ChatGPT have been guilty of exhibiting in the past.
Will Alexa's AI Upgrade Be Enough to Recover Sales?
Despite being a major cash cow for Amazon, the Alexa team faced major cuts at the end of 2022 after the company's Worldwide Digital unit lost over $3 billion in the first quarter of 2022.
This loss in sales has been attributed to a “collateral failure of imagination,” by one former employee working in the division, while even Amazon's own CEO Andy Jassy is reportedly less excited about the division than former chief executive Jeff Bezos.
Even analysts at UBS announced that Amazon could improve its North American margins by reducing investments in “moonshots” like Alexa, according to the Financial Times.
However, while experts may remain skeptical about Alexa's latest upgrade, leveraging generative AI is an excellent way to bring the device's capabilities into 2023, and the only way the hardware manufacturer will be able to compete with fellow top dogs Google and Microsoft.