Ever thought of sitting down and just, you know, having a chat with Alexa? For most of us, not lately, but Amazon is betting that Alexa will feel less like a voice assistant and more like a family friend with help from the company's new and much-hyped LLM.
Amazon's outgoing hardware chief David Limp had an impressively smooth conversation (well, mostly smooth, save for some awkward pauses here and there) with an updated version of Alexa using the company's new large language model.
Limp's chat with the revamped Alexa demonstrated much more flow, open-endedness, and even emotion than the standard Alexa can pull off, with Alexa cheerfully discussing favorite NFL teams with the soon-to-depart Amazon hardware guru.
Some of the exchanges may sound familiar–I'm from Seattle, so my favorite team is the Seahawks, Alexa said in response to a question from Limb–but then Limb was able to follow up with questions like How did they do in their last game and How did Geno Smith throw in the last game?
Alexa answered the queries without repeated use of the Alexa wake word, and also knew Limb's favorite football team (Vanderbilt) without having to be told then and there.
There were some odd pauses during the demonstration where Limb had to repeat a question (we'll chalk it up to the typical glitches that plague on-stage live demos), and some of the answers did give me creepy 2001 flashbacks.
When asked How are you, Alexa replied, I am very happy to be able to help so many people every day by chatting with them. And when Limb said he was happy to be sharing our latest innovations with our customers, Alexa came back with: That's great to hear. Our customers are very important to us, and we're always looking for ways to improve their experience. (Will there be a Douglas Rain voice to go along with the new and improved Alexa?)
Still, Limb promised that Alexa will become adept at rolling with your own natural pauses, and that it will also laugh, sound cheerful or bummed depending on the context, and even throw in some verbal encouragements (‘uh huh?) to keep you talking.
Limb and other Amazon executives also showed off Alexa's upcoming generative AI tricks, such as asking it to write an invitation to Limb's friends to come over and watch some football, or asking it to write a story or a poem on the spot–all very ChatGPT.
But they also detailed how Alexa's new LLM skills could be put to practical use in the smart home, promising an end to clunky voice commands (like Alexa, turn on evening scene in kitchen, ugh) while ensuring that Alexa would correctly identify the devices you want to control (and know where they are in your home, in real time) without making any wrong or hallucinatory guesses.
Amazon topped it off with a slick video showing a family engaging with a new, LLM-fueled Alexa, tossing off breezy commands like Alexa, make it cozy (meaning the temperature), and Alexa, there's a mess in here, spurring Alexa to quickly sending a robot vacuum into the kitchen to clean up after a dog that had spilled some food.
It all looks very much like The Jetsons, but is it for real? Amazon says we'll soon find out for ourselves via a preview that will work on all Echo speakers, including the very first one from 2014. (Amazon didn't give a time frame for when the Alexa preview will actually happen.)