Alexa’s bigger ‘brain’ is getting new skills, natural conversation, and memory

The digital assistant Alexa is just got smarter and potentially easier to use. Just a few days after a presentation at the International World Wide Web Conference in Lyon, France, in which Amazon revealed that its platform would soon be able to better remember information, the company unveiled a new feature for U.S. users called “Remember This,” which is available to use as of Tuesday, May 1. As the name suggests, the functionality allows you to ask Alexa to store key information that you may need again in the future, either by  telling the assistant to “remember” or “make a note.”

For example, you can now say, “Alexa, make a note that Amy is going to China in October,” or “Alexa, remember that I kept the extra blankets in the attic,” or “Alexa, remember Matthew’s teacher’s name is Ms. Sally.” Then, when you need a bit of help jogging your memory, you can just ask Alexa, “When is Amy going to China?” She’ll tell  you, “This is what you told me: Amy is going to China in October.”

Moving forward, we should also be able to enjoy more natural conversations without having to voice the “Alexa” prompt, and merge commerce recommendations into everyday exchanges.

These evolutionary changes were first detailed by Ruhi Sarikaya, the head of the Alexa Brain Group, in a developer blog post that gave more context to the announcement. The department’s primary mission is to make Alexa smarter and more engaging, while making it easier for users to access tens of thousands of Alexa Skills, and training the assistant to retain and utilize contextual information.

Memory is likely to be the most useful new feature for most users. In this regard, Alexa is still trailing behind Google Assistant, which has had a remember feature for some time, but Amazon is catching up fast.

In practical terms, it’s a pretty important step in the life of the digital assistant, while also removing the need for flighty users to shout at their smart speakers all the time. Alexa will now be able to understand and follow conversational questions as well as follow-up questions. The feature is called “Context Carryover,” and is expected to be available soon in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Examples cited by Sarikaya included the ability to inquire about a performer’s work, followed by a request to play that recording, as well as asking follow-up questions involving weather, traffic and other commute-related inquiries.

One slightly insidious feature introduced by Amazon is known to its developers as “Skills Arbitration.” In his example, Sarikaya asked Alexa how to remove an oil stain from a shirt. Alexa’s response: “Here is Tide Stain Remover” — a skill created and launched by the multinational consumer goods manufacturer Proctor and Gamble. It’s clearly another way for Amazon to insert the potential for commerce into the platform — brands are already working on creating skills to match popular consumer inquiries. It essentially means that Alexa is being viewed by Amazon as a primary function to influence how people shop, order, and consume all things. However, Sarikaya insists the feature is simply part of Amazon’s desire for the Alexa experience to be “friction-free.”

Updated on May 1: Remember This is now live for Alexa users in the U.S.

Smart Home

Champagne-colored fridges? Talking toilets? All the appliance trends in 2019

Ever wished you had Amazon Alexa in your bathroom or a brightly colored appliance? The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) starts today, and here are some of the trends we expect to see at the show and beyond.
Smart Home

Google Home vs. Amazon Echo: Which one is better for you?

What happens when you compare the Google Home vs the Amazon Echo? Both smart speakers have good qualities, but what happens when you compare they're features side-by-side? We think one of these smart gadgets wins over the other.
Computing

Keep your portable computer safe and shiny with the best laptop bags for 2019

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Smart Home

What exactly is Alexa? Where does she come from? And how does she work?

While "Alexa" has become synonymous with products like the Amazon Echo, you can't actually go out and buy an "Alexa." So what is Alexa? How does she work? Here's everything you need to know about Amazon's virtual assistant.
Smart Home

Miele stuns KBIS 2019 with wireless probe, self-descaling java pot, and more

Miele rocked KBIS 2019 with waves of new appliances and features. The annual Kitchen and Bathroom Industry Show is all about product launches and Miele's appliance reveal was like New York Fashion Week with a single designer.
Smart Home

Amazon’s wall clock is back on the market after Bluetooth snafus

Amazon's Alexa-enabled Wall Clock was a minor disaster when it was finally released in December because of widespread Bluetooth connectivity challenges. After some tweaks, it's now back on sale for $30.
Smart Home

The Nest Secure included a microphone no one knew about — except Google

The Nest Secure home security system has had a microphone this entire time that no one knew about, except Google. The company claims the mic was never turned on, but customers are outraged.
Mobile

From folding phones to 5G -- here's everything we saw at Galaxy Unpacked

Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked event treated us to a real parade of technological excellence, from folding phones to new fitness wearables. Here's everything we saw at Galaxy Unpacked on February 20.
Smart Home

Leviton’s Wi-Fi Load Center and Smart Circuit Breakers give your home a brain

Is your home ready for a brain transplant? Adding individual smart plugs is quick, easy, and inexpensive, but the benefits are limited to one plug at a time. Leviton's Load Center and Smart Circuit Breakers can give your home a brain.
Smart Home

GE Appliances shows off wall oven with built-in air fryer, food dehydrator

GE Appliances is taking the air fryer trend to its logical conclusion and adding one to a wall oven. The company's new oven, on display at this year's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, also includes a food dehydrator.
Smart Home

OK Google, what else can you do? The best tips and tricks for Google Home

The Home functions in a similar fashion to its main competitor, the Amazon Echo, but has the added benefit of select Google services. Here are few tips to help you make the most of the newfangled device.
Home Theater

Reasons not to mount a TV over your fireplace (and other helpful tips)

Mounting a TV above your fireplace may be popular and it might even seem appealing, but we have some concerns. We've got a list of reasons why placing your digital picture machine over a fire should be avoided, if at all possible.
Smart Home

Colored fridges are back, baby! GE’s new appliances revive the 1950s trend

GE Appliances is coloring us surprised at KBIS 2019 by introducing new hues for its signature Cafe line of smart home appliances including four new hues launching this fall to complement its black and white options.
Smart Home

Stainless steel is so last year. In 2019, it’s all about colorful appliances

For the past couple of decades, the color of choice for appliances has been stainless steel. Now, makers are introducing ovens, fridges, and dishwashers in vibrant hues to give customers a more customized, refined look in the kitchen.