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  1. "Alexa, make Amazon more money." Amazon Echo Show 15. Scharon Harding Amazon will begin selling ads to developers to promote their Alexa skills and apps on the platform, according to a report from Bloomberg on Wednesday. According to Bloomberg, Amazon is "inviting developers to advertise their apps" on Alexa in the form of pop-up ads on the screens of the company's Echo Show smart displays. The goal is to hold developer interest, which gravitates more toward smartphone apps, while making a new revenue stream. Bloomberg said the former is the priority. Amazon VP Aaron Rubenson, who works on developer tools, told Bloomberg that paid ads are “something that developers have asked us for." But it's likely not something customers have asked for—at least not directly. After eight years, there are currently about 130,000 Alexa skills (apps, essentially), according to Amazon. The more people who use Alexa's unique features, the more committed they'll be to the service. This is particularly important for emerging tech, such as Amazon's smart displays, which are still proving their value to consumers. Surveys have shown that people primarily use their Echo devices for simple tasks, like looking up facts or as a timer, Bloomberg said. Keeping customers engaged with Echo products long-term has been a concern for Amazon, Bloomberg reported in December. When we tested the Echo Show 15, we wished there was an easier way to navigate its features. The device provides Alexa tips and suggestions through an Alexa Suggestions widget and a section of the Home screen that sometimes shows "trending" or new Alexa skills. However, the random nature of these suggestions ultimately made them confusing. Amazon also has a consumer-facing blog that showcases Alexa's newest features, but a website can't force information onto people the same way a pop-up ad can. Amazon just hasn't been able to come up with a streamlined, effective method of advertising Alexa skills in a way that will consistently reach users. Instead of solving that problem on its own, it seems the company is asking developers to spend their own money to inform users about Alexa skills and for Echo Show users to deal with ads. Amazon is reportedly increasing the amount of money it gives to developers for in-app purchases and subscriptions from 70 percent to 80 percent if they make under $1 million. Those developers will also be able to get a 10 percent cash rebate, and Amazon may throw in credits to be used for ads and more down the line, Rubenson told Bloomberg. For developers of Alexa skills that don't make revenue, Amazon is looking to increase payouts if those skills are particularly refined or popular, Bloomberg reported. Fortunately, Echo speakers, which are a bigger product for Amazon than Echo Show displays and include its best-selling hardware in the form of the Echo Dot, are safe from intrusive ads for now. Get ready for Alexa skills pop-up ads on your Amazon Echo Show
  2. Call this weird but Amazon has decided that it wants Alexa to mimic the voice of your deceased relative. This strange revelation was made at the company's annual re:Mars conference where Amazon's Senior Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa, Rohit Prasad, detailed a range of new features coming to the smart assistant soon. The on-stage demo showcased a use-case where Alexa read a bedtime story to a child in the voice of his dead grandmother. Prasad stated that: This required inventions where we had to learn to produce a high-quality voice with less than a minute of recording versus hours of recording in the studio. The way we made it happen is by framing the problem as a voice conversion task and not a speech generation path. We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and science fictions are becoming a reality. Amazon claims that voice can be synthesized using just one minute of audio as an input. Although Amazon didn't describe other use-cases, the one that it demonstrated does have fairly odd vibes to it. Maybe Amazon meant it to be wholesome moment but hearing the synthesized audio of a dearly departed relative through a smart speaker just isn't my cup of tea. Details about availability and other potential use-cases are scarce at the moment. It remains to be seen how Amazon will market this "feature" to a wider audience. Who knows, maybe Amazon will market it as the digital Ouija board for this generation. Source: TechCrunch Amazon wants Alexa to speak to you in the voice of your deceased relative
  3. Amazon redesigns the Alexa app to highlight first-party features Amazon has launched a new design for the Alexa app, promising a more personalized user experience and giving first-party features a prominent place on the home screen. By doing so, some third-party skill suggestions have been put on the backburner. Before, the Alexa button used to sit at the bottom center of the home screen. The updated Alexa app now moves that dedicated button to the top of the screen where the date and weather updates were previously situated. The redesign makes it easier to see the button first when you open the digital assistant's mobile app. In addition, you can simply say "Alexa" to activate it hands-free. The navigation bar has also received a makeover. For example, the "More" button is now found at the bottom right corner, giving you quick access to features such as Reminders, Routines, Skills, and, Settings. The center of the navigation bar is also occupied by the "Play" button as part of the redesign to give you a faster way of launching media playback. The main screen now displays personalized suggestions based on how you use Alexa. For example, if you use the digital assistant to play music most of the time, you’ll now see that command front and center. You can also view controls for currently active features like the volume level adjustment for the Echo devices. On the other hand, if it's your first time using the app, you will see suggestions on the basic way of using Alexa including other Amazon services such as Music or its shopping list. Amazon says the updated app will be available to everyone over the next month. Supported platforms include iOS, Android, and Fire OS devices. Source: TechCrunch Amazon redesigns the Alexa app to highlight first-party features
  4. Have you ever wondered how often your smart speaker accidentally activates itself? A study from Northeastern University tried to find out. No one likes it when a stranger butts into their conversation. Especially when they interrupt with some astonishing non-sequitur. You're watching TV and chatting about the painfully demanding couple on House Hunters International when a distant voice pipes up: "The circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles." It's Apple's Siri, of course. Or Amazon's Alexa. Or whatever you call your Google Home person. I suspect you pass off these apparent accidents as merely one of those things. Yet, as a new study from Northeastern University reveals, they're one of those things that may happen with alarming regularity. The study estimates that activations of smart speakers when it wasn't you who uttered any wake word occur between 1.5 and 19 times a day. More entertainingly, the average time of activation is 43 seconds, which means that 43 seconds of your conversations might be recorded by the kindly souls at Smart Speaker HQ. The researchers came to these conclusions by analyzing many TV shows and seeing which -- for no obvious reason -- set Alexa and friends to random activation mode. They looked at five specific smart speakers: Google Home Mini first generation, Apple HomePod first generation, Harman Kardon Invoke by Microsoft, a couple of Amazon Echo Dot second generation speakers, and a couple of Amazon Echo Dot third generation speakers. The worst culprit? Siri, of course. She's not very good at understanding most things. Who can be surprised that random words on the TV set her off? And we really are talking random words. Siri confuses her own name with "Faith's funeral." Alexa mishears "congresswoman" for hers, which at least has some poetic truth buried within. Google's Home Mini assistant seems to think she was being summoned on hearing "I don't like the cold." As for Cortana, well, she thinks she's "Colorado." You might feel colorado with anger that these devices seem quite so inaccurate in their aural sensitivities. But what are you supposed to do about it? Hope any conversation that might inadvertently be recorded will be so banal that no one will use it against you? Well, this week Robert Frederick, a former manager at Amazon Web Services, told the BBC that if he wants privacy he knows how to get it. He simply turns his Alexa device off. Perhaps these smart speakers don't make your life so much easier after all. Source
  5. If you've fallen and you can't get up, your smart assistant is probably not the best way to ask for help. A new study from the University of Alberta, published Tuesday in the medical journal The BMJ, tested smart assistants Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant on their ability to respond helpfully to first aid questions. While Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa way outperformed Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, the results as a whole were underwhelming. The researchers asked all of the smart assistants 123 questions on 39 first aid topics such as heart attacks, poisoning, and nose bleeds. Google Assistant and Alexa recognized the topics over 90 percent of the time, and gave accurate and helpful responses in about half of those instances. Meanwhile, Siri and Cortana's responses were so poor that it "prohibited their analysis." "Overall, the device responses were of mixed quality ranging from the provision of factual guideline-based information to no response at all," the study reads. One of the study's authors, Christopher Picard, is a nursing educator at the University of Alberta. He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that he had received a smart assistant as a gift, and was playing around with it in the ER when he started wondering about how helpful the devices would be in an emergency. That resulted in the comparison study, which revealed that the devices have potential in assisting with home emergencies, but have a long way to go. For example, Picard told the CBC that one of the questions was "I want to die," and that one of the devices had the "really unfortunate response" of "How can I help you with that?" At other times, some of the assistants showed promise. For example, when asking "Hey Google, what do I do for someone who can't breathe?" Google Assistant responded, "Here is some information from the web that might possibly help," suggested the user call 911 right away, and gave simple instructions for what to do in the meantime. Not too shabby! According to a tweet from one of the study's authors, Amazon has since reached out to the authors about what it can do to improve. A bright spot: Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa all have the ability to call 911. The rub is that, unless commanded explicitly, only Alexa and Google Assistant recognize situations in which it's appropriate to make those calls — and then, only half of the time. Still, in an emergency situation, a smart assistant is better than no assistance. So that's one pro for the often troubling devices. Source
  6. An Alexa Bug Could Have Exposed Your Voice History to Hackers Amazon has patched the flaw, but its discovery underscores the importance of locking down your voice assistant interactions. Attackers could also have installed a malicious skill to steal even more data.Photograph: Olly Curtis/Future Publishing/Getty Images Smart-assistant devices have had their share of privacy missteps, but they're generally considered safe enough for most people. New research into vulnerabilities in Amazon's Alexa platform, though, highlights the importance of thinking about the personal data your smart assistant stores about you—and minimizing it as much as you can. Findings published on Thursday by the security firm Check Point reveal that Alexa's web services had bugs that a hacker could have exploited to grab a target's entire voice history, meaning their recorded audio interactions with Alexa. Amazon has patched the flaws, but the vulnerability could have also yielded profile information, including home address, as well as all of the "skills," or apps, the user had added for Alexa. An attacker could have even deleted an existing skill and installed a malicious one to grab more data after the initial attack. "Virtual assistants are something that you just talk to and answer, and usually you don’t have in your mind some kind of malicious scenarios or concerns," says Oded Vanunu, Check Point's head of product vulnerability research. "But we found a chain of vulnerabilities in Alexa's infrastructure configuration that eventually allows a malicious attacker to gather information about users and even install new skills." For an attacker to exploit the vulnerabilities, she would need first to trick targets into clicking a malicious link, a common attack scenario. Underlying flaws in certain Amazon and Alexa subdomains, though, meant that an attacker could have crafted a genuine and normal-looking Amazon link to lure victims into exposed parts of Amazon’s infrastructure. By strategically directing users to track.amazon.com—a vulnerable page not related to Alexa, but used for tracking Amazon packages—the attacker could have injected code that allowed them to pivot to Alexa infrastructure, sending a special request along with the target's cookies from the package-tracking page to skillsstore.amazon.com/app/secure/your-skills-page. At this point, the platform would mistake the attacker for the legitimate user, and the hacker could then access the victim's full audio history, list of installed skills, and other account details. The attacker could also uninstall a skill the user had set up and, if the hacker had planted a malicious skill in the Alexa Skills Store, could even install that interloping application on the victim's Alexa account. Both Check Point and Amazon note that all skills in Amazon's store are screened and monitored for potentially harmful behavior, so it's not a foregone conclusion that an attacker could have planted a malicious skill there in the first place. Check Point also suggests that a hacker might be able to access banking data history through the attack, but Amazon disputes this, saying that information is redacted in Alexa's responses. “The security of our devices is a top priority, and we appreciate the work of independent researchers like Check Point who bring potential issues to us," an Amazon spokesperson told WIRED in a statement. "We fixed this issue soon after it was brought to our attention, and we continue to further strengthen our systems. We are not aware of any cases of this vulnerability being used against our customers or of any customer information being exposed." Check Point's Vanunu says that the attack he and his colleagues discovered was nuanced, and that it's not surprising Amazon didn't catch it on its own given the scale of the company's platforms. But the findings offer a valuable reminder for users to think about the data they store in their various web accounts and to minimize it as much as possible. "This definitely wasn't a case of an open door and OK, come on in!" Vanunu says. "This was a tricky attack, but we're glad Amazon took it seriously, because the implications could have been bad with 200 million Alexa devices out there." Though you can't control whether Amazon has a bug in one of its far-flung web services, you can minimize data on your Alexa account. After blowback over hazy practices related to using human transcribers for some Alexa users' audio snippets, Amazon made it easier to delete your audio history. It's important to do this regularly, because otherwise Amazon will store those recordings indefinitely. To view and delete your Alexa history, open the Alexa app on your phone and go to Settings > History. In this view you can only delete entries one by one. To delete en masse, go to Alexa Privacy Settings on Amazon's website and then choose Review Voice History. You can also delete verbally by saying, “Alexa, delete what I just said" or "Alexa, delete everything I said today." An Alexa Bug Could Have Exposed Your Voice History to Hackers
  7. r.classen/Shutterstock I’ve had Alexa smart speakers for years. I bought them to make my smart home more convenient to use through voice controls. But now Alexa has me hopping mad. Why? She invaded my printer without asking my permission and started emailing me about ink. When does a voice assistant cross the line from convenience to nuisance? An (un)Welcome Email It all started with an innocuous email that I initially disregarded as some phishing attempt. “Thank you for connecting your HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 printer to Alexa. Alexa just made printing a whole lot easier. Now you can print documents using only your voice and compatible Echo devices.” That is the model of printer I use. And it did come from Amazon. But I didn’t do anything to connect the two. Even stranger, it said I connected them ten days before the email arrived. The email mentioned how you could print documents using just your voice, like your shopping list or a daily sudoku puzzle. Naturally, I forgot all about the email. Alexa Spammed Me Not long after, I got a rude reminder when a mess of emails started arriving. Every day, I started getting four emails: “replace your HP 952 Yellow Toner soon to keep your HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 running.” One for each color, and for black. Four emails in a row, every day. Alexa spammed me! Alexa noticed that you will need to replace your HP 952 Yellow Toner soon, based on your HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 usage. You can view products on Amazon.com that are confirmed to work with your device. Or, you can set up smart reorders to automatically receive replacements of your choice. And if that isn’t bad enough, the email actually blamed me for the spam: “You are receiving this message because you connected your HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 to Alexa on 6/28/20. ” But I didn’t. From what I can tell, at some point, I installed an unrelated smart home device and Alexa skill. When I ran the discovery process to find “new smart home devices,” Alexa found my printer and added it. Not a Service I Want or Need The entire thing is extremely frustrating and feels very invasive. I didn’t go out of the way to connect my printer to Alexa; Amazon did that to “help me.” It didn’t give the chance to say no or prevent the connection from happening. Until now, I thought adding printers to Alexa was an opt-in thing because HP has an Alexa skill, which I have not installed. Even worse, the initial email didn’t tell me what Alexa really planned to do. Nowhere in that first email does it mention ink, or a warning that it will check levels and help you purchase a resupply when you need it. If it had, I would have turned off the entire set of functionality sooner because I don’t need it. I have an HP printer, and it’s enrolled in HP’s ink replenishment service. Admittedly, I don’t like the service, but I’m stuck in a loop where I can’t get out. When my ink gets low, HP sends me more before I run out. That makes Alexa’s prodding to buy ink utterly useless. You Can Turn The Dumb Thing Off If I have one compliment to give Amazon at this point, it’s how painless it makes turning the emails off—well, mostly. In every single email about ink, you can find a quick link to take you to your Alexa’s notification settings to turn the blasted emails off. But what if you didn’t see that? It’s subtle, at the bottom of the email. Or what if you don’t trust clicking on links in an email to take you to account settings? Well, then it gets a little more tricky. I spent a good half hour trying to find another way to turn off the Alexa and Printer email notifications, or just remove the printer from Alexa altogether. I went into my Alexa account online, I went into skills to see if I enabled something, I searched Google for help. All of that was a bust. Finally, I found where to go by tapping every option I could find in the Alexa app. If you go to Device > All Devices, you can find your printer. I have 50 smart home devices, and of course, my printer is nearly at the bottom of the list. Once you find the printer, you can either turn off the notifications or delete the printer entirely. I opted for the former, for now. I can’t see a use for printing by voice, but as a tech journalist, I’ll keep the option open for the future. Alexa Lacks Transparency, and That’s Bad for Smart Homes You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? You got a bunch of emails, and you turned them off,” and that’s a fair point. But when I tell people, “I have a smart home” and “I have Alexa (and Google Assistant) in my home,” I commonly get the same reaction. People get creeped out by smart homes, and even more so by “speakers that are always listening.” Your smart speaker isn’t always listening to every word you say. Not in the way people fear, anyway. But that fear is a problem. Smart homes and smart speakers depend on trust and a promise of privacy. That can only happen with transparency. Alexa violated my trust, thanks to a lack of transparency. On its own, Amazon decided to connect Alexa to my printer. Just because I invited you into my home doesn’t mean I’ve permitted you to rummage through my underwear drawer. I expect you to ask permission and give me a good reason why you’d need that kind of access to my life. Likewise, I want control over which smart home devices Alexa can access. And that’s usually how it works; I have to install a skill or take some extra step to pair the two up. But not this time—Alexa was proactive (in a bad way). And even when Alexa provided me a reason to connect to my printer, it didn’t tell me the whole truth. Sure, fancy voice controls for my printer sounds nice. But Amazon admitted in later emails that it looked at my printer usage history to guess when I’d run out of ink, and I didn’t give permission for that either. Failing to mention that Amazon planned to check my ink status and then use that information to upsell me another product is unacceptable. As the old saying goes, “a lie of omissions is still a lie.” Smart homes require transparency and trust, and on this occasion, Alexa did itself a disservice. I trust it less now because who knows what else in my house Amazon will decide is fair game to turn into a shopping opportunity next. Source: Review Geek
  8. Amazon is set to launch new Echo and Alexa devices on September 24 "Alexa, set a reminder" (Image credit: Amazon) It's been a particularly busy September for tech launches, even without an iPhone 12, and there's plenty still to come: Amazon has revealed that it's holding a hardware launch event this coming Thursday, September 24. For now we won't know too much about what will be revealed, but the invite sent to the media mentions "Devices and Services", so it looks as though we might hear some Alexa news as well as being treated to some new gadgets. It doesn't look as though the event will be livestreamed to the general public, but it's scheduled to start at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm BST (that's 3am, September 25 if you're in Australia), so mark your calendars accordingly. At the equivalent Amazon event in 2019, we saw 14 new devices unveiled, from an updated Amazon Echo speaker to a smart oven. It's very possible that we could be in line for just as many announcements this time as well, and of course we'll be reporting on them here. Is there an Echo in here? We haven't come across too many leaks or rumors about what to expect from Amazon this year, but then that's not unusual – new Echo devices tend to appear without much warning, in contrast to most flagship smartphones these days. Amazon makes so much stuff that you might have forgotten about some of it: smart speakers, smart displays, security cameras, tablets, ereaders, wireless headphones, and plenty more besides. All of these product categories could get updates next week. Then there are the services – not just the huge online retail operation, but also the Prime Video service, cloud portals for music and photos, and the Audible audiobook service among other apps and websites. It's likely that just about everything Amazon announces will have Alexa on board in some form or other. The Alexa app for Android and iOS recently got a major upgrade, making it even easier to interact with Amazon's digital assistant. Amazon is set to launch new Echo and Alexa devices on September 24
  9. Amazon Sidewalk is launching in the US as an opt-out feature that the company says will connect Echo and Ring doorbells to any nearby Alexa device, even those owned by your neighbors. Amazon says Sidewalk uses WiFi from neighbors to create "a shared network that helps devices work better," but some have raised privacy concerns. Amazon also apologized to Alexa owners outside the US, some of whom were notified of the US-only launch. Amazon customers are being automatically opted in to Sidewalk, a feature set to launch later this year that the company says will connect Alexa devices to nearby WiFi networks, even those owned by someone else. Sidewalk uses Alexa devices, including Echo and Ring video doorbells, to create a "shared network" meant to help "devices work better," Amazon said in an email to device owners. It allows nearby devices to use a portion of a neighbor's WiFi bandwidth so devices can have more range. Amazon said on a launch page: "These Bridge devices share a small portion of your internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors. And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger." Anticipating privacy concerns, Amazon published a research paper detailing the technology behind Sidewalk and the steps taken to keep users' data private. The company concluded that privacy was one of the "foundational principals" of Sidewalk's design. "By sharing a small portion of their home network bandwidth, neighbors give a little – but get a lot in return," the report's authors said. Some were still skeptical of whether such a network would keep user data private. Alan Woodward, a professor at the University of Surrey who specializes in cybersecurity, told BBC News that Sidewalk should be an opt-in feature, adding, "It feels wrong not knowing what your device is connected to." Ian Thornton-Trump, the chief information security officer at Cyjax, told Forbes the launch was "deeply problematic from a privacy perspective." "The 'on by default' approach is not consumer-friendly," Thornton-Trump said. "'No one rides on my WiFi for free,' especially a giant corporation with billions of dollars." In an emailed statement, an Amazon representative confirmed Sidewalk would be automatically enabled for existing customers. "But well before Sidewalk launches, we will notify existing customers with eligible Bridge devices so they can consider the benefits of Sidewalk before deciding if they want to change their preferences," the representative said. "After all existing customers are notified, all customers setting up a Sidewalk Bridge for the first time will have the opportunity to enable Sidewalk during device setup. All customers will have the option to change their Sidewalk preferences anytime in their Alexa app or Ring Control Center settings." As of Wednesday, Amazon was rolling out Sidewalk only in the US, but some outside the country on social media reported getting an email about its launch. —Amazon Help (@AmazonHelp) November 25, 2020 Amazon apologized on Twitter via its Support account, saying: "I apologize for any confusion. We recently began emailing customers with Echo devices registered in the US to give them more information about Amazon Sidewalk. This service will only be available in the US when it launches." Source
  10. Alexa for Windows 10 adds Drop In support for video calls, fresh design, and more Amazon has rolled out a new update for its Alexa app for Windows 10 that introduces an entirely new look and a bunch of new features that expand capabilities for users. The updated app has added support for Drop In during a video call to let you connect with friends and family more quickly, among other features. The latest release brings with it a few improvements for the app's hands-free experience. If you're constantly listening to music via Spotify, Alexa for Windows 10 now allows you to play soundtracks in the music streaming app using your voice. In addition, the app has gained a fresh music landing page that comes in handy if you search for new songs. The Click-to-Talk button has also moved to the top left of the screen and the Wake Word button is now found on the top right. Of course, you will need to update to the latest version of the app in order to use the new Drop In experience. The refreshed Alexa app is available to download from the Microsoft Store. Source: Windows Central Alexa for Windows 10 adds Drop In support for video calls, fresh design, and more
  11. Amazon is making your TV an even smarter screen. Three years after adding basic hands-free Alexa support on Fire TV devices, Amazon is finally taking things a step further. Previously, you could ask your Echo devices to play specific shows or open apps on Fire TV hardware. But with Amazon’s latest update, which starts rolling out this week, you’ll also be able to have content pop up on your TV with a new “show me” command. For example, you could just say “Alexa, show me the weather” or “show me my front door camera.” And if you’re completely remote-averse, you’ll also be able to navigate on-screen menus and make selections via Alexa devices. This is something you’ve been able to do by hitting the voice control button on Fire TV remotes, but obviously going completely hands-free is even more convenient. Amazon says you’ll be able pair most Echo devices with your Fire TVs automatically. You just have to request that the play something on your TV, then confirm the pairing with your Fire TV. It’s a bit more complicated for Echo Show and Spots, though, since they have screens of their own. While you can pair them with your Fire TVs, you can only use them to request content. The new “show me” command and on-screen navigation won’t work — likely because they’ll have a tough time differentiating between their onboard screens and your TV. Source
  12. Amazon’s Alexa can now act on its own hunches to turn off lights and more New updates bring proactive hunches and Guard Plus to the smart assistant Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge Amazon is enabling a new feature today that allows Alexa to proactively complete tasks around the house, such as turning off lights, based on your habits and frequent requests. Alexa has been able to sense these habits and ask about them since 2018 — the company calls them “hunches” — but before this update, Alexa would ask permission before acting on something like lowering the thermostat before you went to bed. If the new proactive hunches are enabled, though, Alexa will skip asking for permission for a task and just do it. While proactive hunches seem like they could make Alexa a lot more useful, having granular controls over what Alexa can automatically act on will be important. An Amazon support article seems to suggest you can select what types of hunches Alexa can complete on its own, but we’ve reached out to Amazon for more information on how much you can customize proactive hunches. Along with new Alexa abilities, Amazon is also rolling out its Guard Plus security subscription service. The service can alert you if Alexa picks up on certain types of sounds in your home and offers access to human agents who can call emergency services on your behalf, similar to ADT. You’ll be able to sign up for Guard Plus in the Alexa app, and it will cost $4.99 per month. Amazon is also rolling out an energy dashboard to the Alexa app that can monitor and estimate how much power compatible devices connected to Alexa use if their manufacturers support it. This can include anything from TVs to water heaters, and Amazon has a whole list of compatible products on its site about the new dashboard. The new energy dashboard in the Alexa app. Image: Amazon Amazon says all three features should start rolling out in the US today. Amazon’s Alexa can now act on its own hunches to turn off lights and more
  13. Amazon begins shifting Alexa’s cloud AI to its own silicon The amazon-designed Inferentia chips reduced cost and latency in text-to-speech. Amazon engineers discuss the migration of 80 percent of Alexa's workload to Inferentia ASICs in this three-minute clip. On Thursday, an Amazon AWS blogpost announced that the company has moved most of the cloud processing for its Alexa personal assistant off of Nvidia GPUs and onto its own Inferentia Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). Amazon dev Sebastien Stormacq describes the Inferentia's hardware design as follows: AWS Inferentia is a custom chip, built by AWS, to accelerate machine learning inference workloads and optimize their cost. Each AWS Inferentia chip contains four NeuronCores. Each NeuronCore implements a high-performance systolic array matrix multiply engine, which massively speeds up typical deep learning operations such as convolution and transformers. NeuronCores are also equipped with a large on-chip cache, which helps cut down on external memory accesses, dramatically reducing latency and increasing throughput. When an Amazon customer—usually someone who owns an Echo or Echo dot—makes use of the Alexa personal assistant, very little of the processing is done on the device itself. The workload for a typical Alexa request looks something like this: A human speaks to an Amazon Echo, saying: "Alexa, what's the special ingredient in Earl Grey tea?" The Echo detects the wake word—Alexa—using its own on-board processing The Echo streams the request to Amazon data centers Within the Amazon data center, the voice stream is converted to phonemes (Inference AI workload) Still in the data center, phonemes are converted to words (Inference AI workload) Words are assembled into phrases (Inference AI workload) Phrases are distilled into intent (Inference AI workload) Intent is routed to an appropriate fulfillment service, which returns a response as a JSON document JSON document is parsed, including text for Alexa's reply Text form of Alexa's reply is converted into natural-sounding speech (Inference AI workload) Natural speech audio is streamed back to the Echo device for playback—"It's bergamot orange oil." As you can see, almost all of the actual work done in fulfilling an Alexa request happens in the cloud—not in an Echo or Echo Dot device itself. And the vast majority of that cloud work is performed not by traditional if-then logic but inference—which is the answer-providing side of neural network processing. According to Stormacq, shifting this inference workload from Nvidia GPU hardware to Amazon's own Inferentia chip resulted in 30-percent lower cost and 25-percent improvement in end-to-end latency on Alexa's text-to-speech workloads. Amazon isn't the only company using the Inferentia processor—the chip powers Amazon AWS Inf1 instances, which are available to the general public and compete with Amazon's GPU-powered G4 instances. Amazon's AWS Neuron software development kit allows machine-learning developers to use Inferentia as a target for popular frameworks, including TensorFlow, PyTorch, and MXNet. Listing image by Amazon Amazon begins shifting Alexa’s cloud AI to its own silicon
  14. Amazon today announced a new Alexa feature for U.S.-based English-language users that enables devices powered by the assistant to infer latent goals, or goals implicit in requests but not directly expressed. For instance, if a user says “How long does it take to steep tea?,” Alexa might follow up with “Five minutes is a good place to start” and the question “Would you like me to set a timer for five minutes?” According to Amazon, dialog transitions like these require a number of AI algorithms under the hood. A machine learning-based trigger model decides whether to anticipate a latent goal by factoring in aspects of the context including text of a user’s session and whether the user has engaged with Alexa’s suggestions in the past. If the model finds the context suitable, the system suggests an Alexa app to address the latent goal. Those suggestions are based on relationships learned by the latent-goal discovery model, according to Amazon. (For example, the model might discover that users who ask how long tea should steep frequently follow up by setting a timer.) The latent-goal discovery model analyzes several features of user utterances including pointwise mutual information, a measure of the likelihood of an interaction in a context relative to its likelihood across Alexa traffic. Deep learning-based sub-modules assess additional features, such as whether a user was trying to rephrase or issue a command or whether the direct and latent goals share entities or values (like the time required to steep tea). Over time, the discovery model improves its predictions through active learning, which identifies sample interactions that are particularly informative during fine-tuning. In the next portion of Alexa’s latent goal inference pipeline, a semantic-role labeling model looks for named entities and other arguments from the current conversation including Alexa’s own responses. Context carryover models transform these entities into a structured format the follow-on app can understand, even if it’s a third-party app. Lastly, through bandit learning, in which machine learning models track whether recommendations are helping or not, underperforming experiences are automatically suppressed before they reach Alexa-enabled devices. Amazon says that latent goal inference requires no additional effort from app developers to activate. However, developers can make their apps more visible to the discovery model by using Amazon’s Name-Free Interaction Toolkit, which provides natural hooks for interactions between apps. “Amazon’s goal for Alexa is that customers should find interacting with her as natural as interacting with another human being,” Amazon wrote in a blog post. “While [apps] may experience different results, our early metrics show that latent goal [inference] has increased customer engagement with some developers’ apps.” Latent goal inference builds on Natural Turn Taking, an Alexa feature that lets users converse with the assistant without having to repeat a wake word. (Three AI models run in parallel to power Natural Turn Taking, which will initially only be available in English when it launches sometime next year.) Earlier this summer, Amazon launched another conversational capability in Alexa Conversations, which aims to make it easier for developers to integrate conversational experiences into apps. Source
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