Want to Talk? Alexa Wants to Listen—And Know How You’re Feeling

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

Alexa wall clock
An Alexa-enabled wall clock was one of the many new products Amazon announced last week.

In its latest step to become a friendlier SkyNet, Amazon’s Alexa will no only listen and respond to what users say, but also pick up on emotions like frustration in users’ voices.

“We’re going beyond recognizing words,” Rohit Prasad, the VP in charge of the AI behind Alexa told Wired.

The virtual assistant is also gaining the ability to tone down its voice: By the end of the year, Wired reports, Alexa will be able to recognize if a user is whispering and respond to them in kind.

Several other new features and related devices were announced by Amazon last week, including a microwave and wall clock that can connect to Alexa, and Alexa Guard, a service that will enhance home security systems by listening for alarms and sounds that indicate a burglary, such as breaking glass.

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To help power these new innovations, the audio algorithms behind Alexa are also improving how they track subtleties in speech, as well as the rhythms of how people speak. This, combined with better text analysis, reports Wired, will make tasks like creating shopping lists simpler because devices will now suss out that a command like “add paper towels, peanut butter and bananas” refers to three separate items, and not just one.

Amazon also announced a number of other products to help add Alexa to appliances, speakers and other devices, such as the $25 Amazon Smart Plug and the $35 Echo Input. Both require that users also have a separate Alexa device. Of course, not everyone is impressed.

“I want to say that Amazon has forgotten how to under-promise and over-deliver, but the better explanation is that the company has embraced a ‘flood the market’ mentality,” Emil Protalinski writes on VentureBeat.

At this year’s CES, numerous companies exhibiting were adding Alexa to their existing devices. Amazon should let them do that, Protalinski argues, and focus instead on offering high-quality Alexa experiences, not gimmicks.

“Nobody needs an Alexa-powered clock. They may think they do, but that functionality exists everywhere,” he wrote. “Hell, even microwaves can tell time.”


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