The ultimate upgrade to Amazon’s Alexa

What Alexa really needs is some human assistance

The ultimate upgrade to Amazon’s Alexa

In a recent post, I shared 8 ways to make Amazon’s Alexa even more awesome, covering everything from better communications to easier setup and skills creation. I believe those suggestions could help Alexa become even more useful than it already is. 

But for voice assistants to truly fulfill their destiny, they need something a bit more radical and transformative.

They need the human touch.

As noted in my previous post, while Alexa does a few things really well, she doesn’t even try to deal with the vast, vast, majority of tasks and questions you might want to pose to a voice-powered assistant. That’s because the current state of AI simply doesn’t support even a tiny fraction of the questions you might want answered or tasks you might want help with. 

For now, the only way to enable a voice assistant to be useful for everything is to stop limiting it to only artificial intelligence and instead enhance it with a human/AI hybrid service like Facebook M.

+ Also on Network World: Facebook's virtual assistant M is super cool, but can it scale? +

Facebook M—a digital text assistant feature for Facebook Messenger—already provides an interesting—if not exactly scalable—model for how to integrate AI with human-powered backup to create a full-fledged chat experience. According to Facebook, the systemcompletes tasks and finds information on your behalf. It's powered by artificial intelligence that's trained and supervised by people." 

I’ve been using M for a while now, and it’s a fascinating concept. But the text-only interface is limiting, and it can take an awkwardly long time to respond to simple questions. 

So, let’s imagine something like Facebook M built into an Amazon Echo: 

  • Have a simple question or request? The AI handles it instantly.
  • Need something more complex, or something the AI doesn’t fully understand? The system would instantly shunt the missive to human operators, who could respond as needed (and hopefully give you an immediate update on the status of your request).
  • If the humans needed more information, they could ask for it specifically, or let you know they needed more time to deal with it.

No doubt it would be very expensive to provide this, especially at scale. (Facebook M is currently free as a test offering to a very limited number of users.) Depending on the level of service desired, though, Amazon could charge for this service as a tiered add-on, most likely via some combination of subscription pricing for the basics and per-use pricing for special requests. 

Sure, it might not be cheap, but the value provided by an always-available on-call premium voice-assistant service that combines AI speed with human judgment seems very powerful to me. 

Presumably, as the system improved its AI algorithms and processes over time, the need for human intervention would decline—if never go away completely—lowering costs and increasing speed. That, to me, would be ultimate Alexa: a voice assistant endowed with both the computer and human smarts required to efficiently help me in any way necessary.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in wishing for an assistant like that. In fact, I suspect it’s the ultimate goal for Amazon, Google, Apple and many others. I can’t wait to see how they all get there.

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