With all of the spectacle of an Apple event and droid-like gadgetry of the Disney+ Star War series The Mandalorian, the Amazon Devices & Services Showcase on September 24 dazzled with more than a dozen new products to help consumers adapt to pandemic life and better integrate work, school and entertainment into their smart homes.
Here are highlights from the show along with my interview of Alexa’s Head Scientist Rohit Prasad.
Security Drone To Call Your Own
Ring Always Home Cam is sure to become a family favorite as it zips around the house playing with your dog, spying on the nanny, searching for your phone, checking the oven, and spooking intruders. Will retail for $249.
Alexa With Mommy Tone For Kids
Echo Dot Kids Edition, which comes in animal-themed tiger and panda prints, switches to Alexa kid mode with a child-friendly tone when answering a youngster’s questions, helping with homework, reading bedtime stories, calling friends, and playing games. One year subscription to Amazon Kids+ with Audible books included. Available for pre-order for $59.
Console Gaming On iPhone
Luna is Amazon’s new cloud gaming service. It enables gamers to go from watching their favorite Twitch streamers including BanzaiBaby, Bluejay, ShryKu, Alchemist Joker and BizSnes, to instantly playing the game. Launch publishers include Ubisoft, Capcom, 505 Games and Team 17 and games can be played across PC, Mac, Fire TV, and iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Early access pricing is $5.99/month and $49 for the Luna controller. The service also works with the Xbox One controller, DualShock 4 controller, and mouse and keyboard.
“Talk Less” Humans
Whenever Amazon releases smart devices, memes inevitably arise warning of the world’s richest human, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, gaining unfettered access into the most intimate spaces of our lives.
Addressing privacy concerns, Amazon announced a number of steps being taken to protect consumer information including the reveal of its AZ1 Neural Processor with on device machine learning algorithms that speed processing and keep data out of the cloud.
Dave Limp, SVP of Devices & Services expressed the importance of voice AI to the overall Amazon vision, “We believe the future of an ambient home is one that often requires you to speak less. That’s not to say you won’t speak to your home but it’s going to understand you more. It’s going to anticipate your needs and be more contextual.”
To that end, three AI advancements were announced. These include a breathier Alexa with pauses and interjections to improve Neural Text To Speech (TTS) synthesis, multi-sensory fusion of acoustic, linguistic and visual cues to help her better respond in a group, and a self-learning breakthrough that gives consumers the ability to train her directly.
She knows when you’re being sarcastic, Prasad told me commenting on Alexa’s ability to read nuances. “Alexa can now pick up on vocal frustration. A super important cue based on tone of voice that is used to determine whether what Alexa did was right or wrong for the customer.”
She knows who to answer when people interrupt each other. He explained, “She’s looking at your pose and asking is the audio emanating from someone looking at the camera.”
She even knows how to be more relatable and emotive. Just like in the Spike Jonze film, Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Alexa’s audible breaths are meant to make her seem more real.
But at what point will she be able to pass for human?
Prasad wouldn’t comment, but he did say, “Where we are headed is to make conversations so seamless that Alexa can become more useful, fun and ultimately your best assistant, companion and friend.” He added, “The ability for instantaneous learning, without any human in the loop other than the end-user, is transformational.”