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Amazon is making it possible for people who speak with intelligent assistant Alexa to answer questions and share information that may then be distributed to millions of users around the world.
More than 100,000 answers have been added to Alexa Answers since internal trials began one month ago, according to a blog post announcing the news today. The new feature is available by invitation only.
Rather than submitting answers via a conversation with Alexa, users must submit suggestions through a website.
Alexa Answers is made to address questions that have not yet been answered, and responses that come from the program will be attributed to “an Alexa customer.”
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Answers is Amazon’s second effort to improve responses to questions in recent months. In August, Amazon launched Answer Updates so that anyone who asks a question Alexa is unable to answer will get a notification when the assistant learns the right answer.
Follow-up questions, an attempt to make exchanges with Alexa more conversational, was announced earlier this year.
Examples of questions that could benefit from user input include “Where is the most snowfall?,” “Where was the world’s largest wave surfed?,” and “How long does it take for an ice cube tray to freeze?”
Answers could help Alexa field nuanced factual questions or help engineers responsible for the AI assistant’s knowledge base understand what kinds of questions do not have a clear or consistent answer.
The newly announced initiative is meant to shore up one of Alexa’s shortcomings. Analysis released this summer found that Google Assistant was best at answering questions, followed by Apple’s Siri, Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana.
“Our vision has always been that Alexa will be able to answer all questions in all forms, from anywhere in the world,” the blog post said.
Amazon, the largest seller of smart speakers in the United States, has a history of turning to its customers for help improving Alexa. Every exchange with Alexa is recorded and used to improve the AI assistant’s language understanding.
To help Alexa get better at speaking foreign languages, Alexa engineers last year released Cleo, a gamified Alexa skill that records exchanges with people who speak some of the world’s most spoken languages — like French, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese.
The new feature comes during the holiday season, one of the biggest times of the year for smart speaker sales.
Also announced today: Alexa can now recommend playlists. If you say, “Alexa, play a holiday playlist,” the AI assistant will ask you a series of questions to identify an appropriate list of tunes.
Drop-in calls for Fire tablets was also introduced this week.
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