Amazon’s Alexa to soon have features to plan family night outs

Amazon’s Alexa will soon have new features to help users execute a complete family night out experience where it may book the movie, make a restaurant reservation and pre-book an Uber

Alexa (Social Media)
Alexa (Social Media)

Nishant Arora/IANS

Amazon's personal assistant Alexa will soon be able to execute a complete family night out experience where it may book the movie (and let you watch a trailer too), make a restaurant reservation and pre-book an Uber to take all of you there -- all seamlessly and in a jiffy.

At its flagship "re:Mars" event here, the company showed a brief demo and announced that in the coming months, this and other multi-skill experiences will roll out to Alexa customers, initially in the US.

"We envision a world where customers will converse more naturally with Alexa: seamlessly transitioning between skills, asking questions, making choices, and speaking the same way they would with a friend, family member or co-worker," Rohit Prasad, Alexa Vice President and Head Scientist, told a packed house.

"Our objective is to shift the cognitive burden from the customer to Alexa," Prasad added.

Today, customer exchanges with Alexa are generally either one-shot requests, like "Alexa, what's the weather?", or interactions that require multiple requests to complete more complex tasks.

An Alexa customer planning a family movie night out must interact independently with multiple skills to find a list of local theatres playing a particular movie, identify a restaurant near one of them, and then purchase movie tickets, book a table, and perhaps order a ride.

The cognitive burden of carrying information across skills -- such as time, number of people, and location -- rests with the customer.

Enabling a new experience is a set of AI modules that work together to generate responses to customers' questions and requests.

The new approach to multi-turn dialogue also includes a separate AI module whose task is to decide when to switch between different skills -- which questions to pass to the restaurant search skill, for instance, and which to pass to the movie skill," informed Prasad.

"With this new approach, Alexa will predict a customer's latent goal from the direction of the dialogue and proactively enable the conversation flow across topics and skills. This is a big leap for conversational AI," informed Prasad.

He also announced the developer preview of "Alexa Conversations", a new deep learning-based approach for skill developers to create more-natural voice experiences with less effort, fewer lines of code and less training data than before

The preview allows skill developers to create natural, flexible dialogues within a single skill; upcoming releases will allow developers to incorporate multiple skills into a single conversation.

"It's way easier to build a complex voice experience with Alexa Conversations due to its underlying deep-learning-based dialog modeling," Prasad noted.

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