Skip to main content

We’ve only just ‘scratched the surface of what’s possible’ with Alexa, exec says

amazon echo in the dark
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

Alexa is already one smart cookie. The perennially popular smart assistant from Amazon has quickly become one of the most popular helpers on the market, and is capable of helping its users with everything from controlling their smart homes to answering pressing questions about life to making announcements to the household. But according to Rohit Prasad, the vice president and head scientist of the Alexa division at Amazon, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. In fact, according to an interview with Prasad published in the Amazon blog, his team has only “scratched the surface of what’s possible.”

Prasad leads Alexa’s research and development in speech recognition, natural language understanding, and machine learning technologies, all in hopes of bettering users’ experiences with Echo devices. Since November 2014, Prasad and his team have shown that far-field speech recognition, even in loud environments, is possible with a high degree of accuracy. The reason for this, the executive says, is that Amazon has managed to develop a series of machine learning algorithms, data, and “immense computing power.” While conversation artificial intelligence (A.I.) has been a topic of interest among researchers for nearly five decades, it has historically been difficult for machines to not only understand, but also communicate in human language. As a result, Alexa’s ability to comprehend and respond to a “wide array of intents” makes her particularly impressive, Prasad noted.

So how exactly does Alexa work? First and foremost, your Echo device listens for a spoken audio cue, which is then converted to text by far-field automatic speech recognition (ASR) in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Then, Alexa leverages natural language understanding (NLU) to convert these words into what Prasad calls a “structured interpretation of intent that can be used to respond to the user from the more than 30,000 Alexa skills built by first- and third-party developers.” This interpretation is coupled with certain contexts, like what kind of device the speaker is using, who the speaker is, or the most likely skills capable of providing a response. This context ultimately helps decide what Alexa’s next action ought to be, whether it’s a response or to ask for more information.

Alexa then responds using text-to-speech synthesis (TTS), which helps to translate strings of words into intelligible audio. Of course, the challenge here is to ensure that Alexa responds not only accurately, but quickly as well. As Prasad noted, As scientists and engineers we’re always battling this healthy tension between accuracy and latency from when the user stops speaking to Alexa to when she responds.”

So what is it that makes Alexa more capable than other smart assistants? Apparently, it has a lot to do with the fact that Alexa lives mostly in the cloud, which means the more you talk to her, the smarter she becomes. The smart assistants employs a range of learning techniques, but Prasad pointed out that Alexa “scientists and engineers are continually applying and inventing new learning techniques,” including what’s called transfer learning, which allows Alexa to apply lessons learned from one skill to another, or even one language to another.

And as far as what we can look forward to from not only Alexa, but smart assistants as a whole, Prasad has a few ideas. “A.I. will have deep societal impact and will help humans learn new skills that we can’t even imagine today,” he said. “In the next five years, we will see conversational A.I. get smarter on multiple dimensions as we make further advances with machine learning and reasoning. With these advances, we will see Alexa become more contextually aware in how she recognizes, understands, and responds to requests from users.” Ultimately, Prasad envisions a future in which the smart assistant will be able to engage in conversations regarding current events and other everyday topics. You can already check out what is possible by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat.” You may just be surprised by what you learn.

Editors' Recommendations

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
Best Buy deals: Save on laptops, TVs, appliances, and more
best buy shuts down insignia line smart home products store 2 768x768

Best Buy is always a great retailer to turn to if you’re looking for some savings. There are almost always Best Buy deals taking place on TVs, appliances, and devices we use to navigate the digital world. In fact, right now at Best Buy you can find some of the best TV deals, best laptop deals, and best phone deals that can be shopped, and we haven’t even mentioned the deals on tablets and home audio equipment currently taking place at Best Buy. We’ve rounded up all of the best Best Buy deals you can shop right now and categorized them for your convenience below, so read onward for some great opportunities to save.
Best Buy TV deals

There may be no better place to purchase one of the best TVs than Best Buy. There is almost always some huge savings to find on TVs at Best Buy, and that’s certainly the case right now. You’ll find deals top TV brands like Sony, Samsung, and LG, and more budget-friendly brands like TCL and Hisense are in play, too.

Read more
Dyson’s new AR mobile app shows where you forgot to clean
A person using the Dyson AR app.

Dyson has always been on the cutting edge of vacuum technology, with heaps of premium vacuums filling the pages of its product catalog. Now, the company seems to be branching out to the world of augmented reality, with the reveal of Dyson CleanTrace -- a new feature on the MyDyson mobile app that shows you all the spots in your home that are yet to be cleaned.

Using Dyson CleanTrace is simple, though it comes with pretty strict limitations. For one, it only works with the expensive Dyson Gen5detect cordless vacuum. It also requires a smartphone with a lidar scanner (like an iPhone 15) and a special clamp to attach your phone to the vacuum (which is yet to receive a price tag). With all that out of the way, you'll then be able to launch the MyDyson app and access the CleanTrace feature for free when it arrives in June.

Read more
Arlo Pro 3-pack of security cameras is down to $400 from $700
A woman assembling a Arlo Pro 5S on a wall.

For anyone keen to make their home more secure and accountable through a set of security cameras, Best Buy is currently the place to go for security camera deals. At the retailer, you can buy a three pack of the highly regarded Arlo Pro 5S Spotlight Security Camera for $400. That means you’re saving a huge $300 off the regular price of $700. This is the ideal time to upgrade your home security for less and we’re here to tell you all about it before you commit to a purchase.

Why you should buy the Arlo Pro 5S Spotlight Security Camera
Arlo makes some of the best home security cameras around with pretty much its entire range being worth your time and money. With the Arlo Pro 5S, you get a great level of detail. There’s two times the video resolution of HD so you can zoom in up to 12 times to see sharper details. Due to its night vision, you can also see color at night for better identification of what’s going on. A wide 160-degree field of view combined with auto image correction cuts down on fish eye effect so everything looks just how you would expect it to. There’s also AI object detection so the Arlo Pro 5S is capable of detecting if something is a package, person, vehicle, animal or similar.

Read more