Under pressure, the voice assistant Alexa dreams of being an “advisor and companion”

“Alexa is not just an assistant, it’s much more than that”, insists Rohit Prasad, one of the fathers of this software created by Amazon to understand voice orders and respond to them. More than a voice assistant? Despite privacy concerns and, now, internal pressure at Amazon to make savings in loss-making activities like Alexa, this artificial intelligence specialist believes in a futuristic and ambitious vision. The application must also be “a counselor and a companion”projects Mr. Prasad, met on November 11 in the premises of Amazon in Boston, city “pioneer in voice recognition and language processing”.

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“If you have a thermostat in your house and you left it at 22°C when you left, Alexa might say, ‘There’s no one home, why keep it so high?’ to lower. It is the role of adviser., explains the senior vice president and chief scientific officer of Alexa. Ditto for a garage door left open or an empty printer cartridge. If you hesitate in front of your television, the application should be able to suggest a program “as a friend does, who knows your tastes and what you have already seen”. If you want “buy back LR6 batteries, Alexa could know your history and order them”, continues Mr. Prasad, who joined Amazon in 2013.

The companion role would be “especially suitable for older people or children” :Alexa “can help them to occupy themselves, to pass the time”, “to explore topics and learn or stay connected with loved ones”, thinks the engineer. Thursday, November 24, Amazon has also announced a partnership in France with Korian retirement homes. Connected speakers will be installed there, with the aim that residents hear announcements, communicate with their families, etc.

What value should be given to this proactive and optimistic discourse on artificial intelligence in everyday life? Voice assistants are not a new technology. The pioneer Siri, invented by Apple, was born in 2011, Alexa, in 2014 (mid-2018 in France), and the Google Assistant, in 2016.

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With the crisis in the “tech” sector, this market is confronted with the idea of ​​too slow growth, with limited uses and not profitable enough, for lack of satisfactory monetization. With 10,000 employees and a deficit of 5 billion dollars (4.8 billion euros) in 2021, Alexa is one of the services where Amazon plans to save money, according to the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. When questioned, the e-commerce leader nevertheless claims to be still optimistic about the future of Alexa, which remains an important business and area of ​​investment”.

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Under pressure, the voice assistant Alexa dreams of being an “advisor and companion”


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