Amazon starts crowdsourcing Alexa’s answers. What could go wrong?

“Alexa, where do you get answers to questions?” Alexa’s response to that question may surprise you (see below). In the first week of December 2018, Amazon announced Alexa Answers, a program to encourage customers to add answers and information to Alexa.

According to Amazon’s DayOne blog, until now, the Alexa division has added the answers to common potential questions to a data bank, merging information from multiple sources.

“Alexa is getting smarter every day — she can now do millions of things, and just in the last year we added more than one billion data points to Alexa’s knowledge, federating a large number of sources that inform our knowledge graph,” wrote Amazon Vice President of Alexa Information Bill Barton.

Alexa Answers will change that, although the program is by invitation only. Starting December 6, 2018, Amazon is sending email invites to certain customers to begin contributing answers for Alexa. The customers will be selected by their history of writing product reviews or engagement with Alexa, The Verge reports.

This move follows an internal beta during November, in which only Amazon employees participated, Amazon added more than 100,000 responses. Those answers have already been used with customers millions of times, Barton says.

Alexa Answers participants will be directed to a website where they can access questions Alexa has been asked before but couldn’t answer. The questions are organized by subject area, and answers cannot be longer than 300 characters (not words), according to Fast Company.

Questions and answers will both be screened, to stop “potentially offensive questions from surfacing on the Alexa Answers site, and to prevent profane or offensive words and topics from surfacing in answers,” Amazon told The Verge.

“After a customer submits the answer, the answer may be given to Alexa customers. Then, when the next customer asks Alexa the question answered by the community, Alexa will have access to that answer and can choose to respond by attributing the response to ‘an Amazon customer’ before providing the answer” Barton wrote.

From Barton’s statement, it appears there will be two additional filters to customer-supplied answers. That answers “may be given to Alexa customers” implies some level of human or machine judgment. And then, when responding to a question Alexa “can choose to respond” with a response from the Alexa Answers program, attributing credit (and partial responsibility) for the answer to an unidentified “Amazon customer.”

Alexa users who hear customer-supplied answers will have the chance to vote them up or down. Too many negative responses will result in the answer’s deletion.

While you’re awaiting an email invite to contribute to Alexa Answers, here are example questions from Amazon’s blog:

  • How many birds migrate?
  • What is Juniper syrup?
  • Where is the most snowfall?
  • Where was the world’s largest wave surfed?
  • How long does it take for an ice cube tray to freeze?

Digital Trends went straight to the source and asked, “Alexa, where do you get answers to questions?”

Alexa’s first response was, “Sorry, I don’t know that.”

On the chance we had not spoken sufficiently clearly, we asked again and received a nearly identical response, “Hmmm, I don’t know that.”

Alexa’s answers could mean that, indeed, Alexa isn’t privy to her own sources. Or, maybe she knows but isn’t telling.

Smart Home

Alexa’s Custom Interfaces hope to augment gadgets, games, and smart toys

Alexa is growing smarter again with a new feature for developers called Custom Interfaces. The feature is aimed at augmenting interactivity between users of Alexa-powered devices like Amazon's Echo and developer's newest products.
News

The results are in: Alexa is legitimately dumber than Siri and Google Assistant

If you’ve always thought Alexa was dumber than the other voice assistants in your house or on your phone, a new test performed by Loup Ventures might prove your theory correct. Alexa scored last in an IQ test against Google Assistant and…
News

Amazon customers are getting emails with someone else’s order information

Some Amazon customers say they’re receiving emails from Amazon about orders placed by other people. Those emails contain personal information like the person's address and what they purchased on Amazon.
News

Buy less, give more: Amazon will donate products you don’t buy to charity

Amazon will now donate unsold and returned products to charities with a new initiative the company is calling Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Donations. Sellers can use the FBA program to donate eligible products starting in September.
Smart Home

Foxconn interns reportedly work long hours to produce Amazon Alexa products

A recent report from the Chinese Labor Watch said that student interns are forced to work long hours without rest in order to meet Amazon Echo production goals at the Foxconn factory in China.
Smart Home

New Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo models vacuum and mop with multi-floor mapping

Ecovacs Robotics launched two new robotic home floor care models. The Deebot Ozmo 920 and Deebot Ozmo 950 add new laser-based navigation and multi-floor mapping capabilities combine robotic vacuuming and mopping for total floor cleaning.
Smart Home

Google Assistant’s reminders will soon nag your significant other for you

Let Google take the heat for all that nagging: Google Assistant will soon allow you to assign reminders to others. The feature will roll out to Google Assistant-enabled phones, speakers, and displays over the next few weeks.
Deals

Locate a runaway pet with the Whistle 3 GPS Pet Tracker, now $64 on Amazon

A good way to monitor your pet’s movements is through a GPS tracker. A great option is the Whistle 3, which is available on Amazon for only $64 as an early Prime Day deal. It’s normally sold for $80, so you get $16 savings.
Buying Guides

Back to school smart home gadgets under $50 for your dorm

Today’s students are accustomed to a high-tech lifestyle, which they'll want to maintain when they start college. But they're also strapped for cash, so these back to school smart home gadgets under $50 for the dorm are perfect!
Smart Home

Startup Camect is on track to deliver a private, unified smart camera hub

It's not every day you run across a crowdfunded startup that has raised nearly three times its goal but startup Camect has done just that to fund the development of a secure smart camera hub expected to launch in 2020.
Smart Home

Smart thermostats explained: How they work and how they save you money

Thinking of buying a smart thermostat, but don't know exactly what you're looking for? We explain how smart thermostats work, the features they offer, and how they can save you money.
Smart Home

The best pet tech products on the market for dog and cat owners

Pet-centric tech has come a long way in the past decade. From self-cleaning litter boxes to DNA tests designed to trace your pup's ancestry through the ages, here is some of the best pet tech available.
Smart Home

Amazon and Walmart match lower prices on Echo Dot and Google Home Mini

Amazon and Walmart resumed their price competition on the entry-level smart speakers for the Amazon Echo and Google Nest Home smart home ecosystems. The price cuts have started with 40% discounts on the Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini.
Smart Home

Your smart oven might be more ready for breakfast than you realize

Several owners of the June Smart Oven have reported the device turning on and preheating in the middle of the night without any input. June says this is due to user error, but customers are concerned.