Alexa’s chief scientist wants to give the voice assistant a robot body

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Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is learning new things and adding new skills all the time, but there’s only so much it can learn bottled up in the smart speakers and other devices that come equipped with the artificial intelligence (A.I.). According to Rohit Prasad, the head scientist in Amazon’s Alexa division, to truly understand the world and how the people Alexa is designed to help interact with it, the disembodied voice needs a body.

Speaking at The EmTech Digital A.I .Conference held by MIT Technology Review in San Francisco, Prasad raised the idea of letting Alexa learn about the world by experiencing it like a human might. “The only way to make [a]smart assistant really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world,” he said. That would include giving Alexa a physical form.

While the idea might seem a little out there, we’re already closer to the possibility than one might imagine. In some cases, Alexa already has access to “eyes” of sorts, as some devices with Alexa installed include cameras that the A.I. can access. A body would be a considerable jump in progression, of course, but it is a possibility. That said, Prasad didn’t confirm whether Amazon is already working on building a body for its voice assistant.

According to Alexa’s chief scientist, putting the A.I. in a body would allow the voice assistant to collect more data about the world around it. Simple as that might seem, it would provide more context as to how humans interact with the world, which would, in turn, give the voice assistant a better idea of how to answer certain questions or provide information. It would also potentially improve its ability to perform complex tasks that the human brain can process.

The idea of Alexa getting a body isn’t new around Amazon, either. Last year, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was working on a robot designed for use around the home. The project, codenamed Vesta, is rumored to be an effort to design a mobile Alexa that could navigate around a person’s home and provide them with information and complete simple chores.


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