While Alexa has more than 90,000 voice applications, which Amazon refers to as “skills,” they’re typically used one at a time. Yet a videotaped demonstration showed how Alexa could soon be able to arrange a whole evening out for you — something Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri can’t yet do.
First, a woman’s voice asked Alexa for show times for the film “Dark Phoenix” on Saturday night. After some back and forth, the woman settled on a time, and asked Alexa to purchase two tickets to a 7:05 p.m. show at Regal Cinebarre Palace Station, a movie theater in Las Vegas.
Then, Alexa did something new, asking the woman, “Will you be eating out near Regal Cinebarre Palace Station?”
The woman requested a Chinese restaurant, and Alexa offered several suggestions. The woman asked Alexa to make a reservation at one of them. After that, Alexa asked if she needed an Uber ride to the restaurant.
Once Alexa booked an Uber, it asked, “Anything else?”
“Show me the trailer,” the woman said, referring to a preview for the upcoming movie.
Alexa complied, playing the trailer for “Dark Phoenix” on the Echo Show’s display.
Today, you’d have to talk to Alexa 40 times to complete this kind of complex interaction, Prasad said. But the feature he demonstrated required only 13 user turns and far less time, he said.
Making this kind of complicated interaction work requires a lot of AI effort — Alexa needs to not only understand and respond to human queries, but also come up with smart suggestions that could add to the conversation. Speaking on stage at the conference, Prasad said this works by using a cross-skill action predictor — essentially, software that can reply to commands like “get me movie tickets” by getting the movie tickets and be proactive in pulling up other skills like reserving a table at a restaurant.
Talking to reporters at re:MARS after the morning’s keynote talks, Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon devices and services, said the company is working on a couple other experiences beyond the night-out scenario that will also roll out in the coming months.
“It will take us years to get more and more conversational, but this breakthrough is very big for us,” he said. “Tip of the iceberg.”