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Amazon hopes to use generative artificial intelligence to reignite interest in its home devices, including its Alexa voice assistant, amid cuts in the company’s hardware division.
Generative artificial intelligence, which is sparking debate around the world about the future of work, safety and regulation, will “power new Alexa experiences” and empower lives, Amazon’s longtime devices chief Dave Limp said on Wednesday. Bringing a “smarter, more conversational” voice assistant.
While Amazon’s gadgets and devices division is a personal passion of founder Jeff Bezos, the retail giant’s CEO Andy Jassy seems less than enthusiastic about the unit. Limp will resign before the end of the year.
The Alexa team suffered significant layoffs last year as executives closely focused on the product’s direct contribution to the company’s bottom line. Amazon does not disclose the profitability of its devices unit in its quarterly earnings.
While Alexa devices have been selling well during Amazon’s Prime Day sales, users typically aren’t using most of Alexa’s tens of thousands of “skills.”
Meanwhile, other hardware experiments, such as Amazon Astro, a home robot designed to pair with Alexa, and the Scout delivery robot, haven’t taken off.
At the company’s device event on Wednesday, Limp unveiled his vision for the future of Alexa, which he said will be powered by generative artificial intelligence and based on new custom large-scale language models.
He said Alexa will be able to respond to questions and commands faster and more naturally, and the experience will be “like talking to another human being.”
For example, with the new “Let’s Chat” feature, users will be able to interrupt Alexa to give the assistant more precise instructions or change requests without having to use an “Alexa” command. The voice assistant will respond quickly to updated prompts without having to recalibrate like a human would, and will also be able to infer the meaning and answers to less specific questions.
The AI-powered generative upgrade will also include better search capabilities on Amazon Fire TV, the company said. For example, users can request movies that “I don’t have to pay for” or “I haven’t seen yet” or request recommended awards based on who stars in a show and whether the show has won major awards.
Limp said that while “cynics may not have believed” when Alexa launched a decade ago that the technology would change the way people live in their homes, “the model is here to stay.” Integrating generative AI into devices won’t come at the expense of security or privacy, which are top of mind for the team, he added.
By making generative AI the focus of the demo, Amazon is joining Big Tech peers like Google and Microsoft in putting the rapidly evolving technology at the center of its foundational products and trying to capitalize on the hype surrounding the industry.
UBS analysts said in September that Amazon is likely to improve its North American profit margins as the company reduces investments in “moonshots” such as Alexa and focuses on things like improving efficiency.