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Amazon wants to turbocharge Alexa so it can compete with ChatGPT

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With generative AI being all the rage these days, it’s no surprise that Amazon is finally entering the mix. According to a report from CNBC, Amazon has plans to completely overhaul Alexa, the company’s popular voice assistant. 

The report notes that the upcoming version of Alexa will be more conversational as to more ably compete with advanced chat software like ChatGPT. The news should come as a nice surprise for heavy Alexa users. While Alexa works perfectly fine for simple tasks like setting reminders and obtaining answers to basic questions, it certainly lacks a lot of functionality seen in more sophisticated chatbots. 

Of course, the revamped Alexa won’t be free with CNBC reporting that it will “not be included in the $139-per-year Prime offering.” Notably, a final price for the more capable version of Alexa remains a point of discussion inside the company.

How did Alexa fall behind?

What’s interesting is that when Alexa came out, it wasn’t long before it was already outperforming rivals like Siri. All the more impressive is that Alexa came out three years after Apple introduced Siri.

So, what prompted Alexa to stagnate? To this point, CNBC relays that Alexa was an initiative that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was personally excited about and invested in. Consequently, the Alexa team was given tremendous resources without any significant imperative to be cost-effective. Rather, functionality and progress were prioritized.

This dynamic, however, changed in 2021 when Jeff Bezos decided to step down as Amazon CEO after 25 years. Bezos assumed the role of executive chairman, and the CEO spot was subsequently filled by Andy Jassy. Incidentally, Jassy has been with Amazon since 1997 and was part of the group that helped create AWS.

With Jassy at the helm, CNBC notes that Alexa moved down a few notches on the priority list:

That changed when Andy Jassy took over as CEO in 2021, according to three sources. Jassy was charged with rightsizing Amazon’s business during the pandemic, and Alexa became less of a priority internally, they said. Jassy has been privately underwhelmed with what modern-day Alexa is capable of, according to one person. The Alexa team worried they had invented an expensive alarm clock, weather machine and way to play Spotify music, one source said.  

For instance, Jassy, an avid sports fan, asked the voice assistant the live score of a recent game, according to a person in the room, and was openly frustrated that Alexa didn’t know an answer that was so easy to find online. 

Amazon, though, appears eager to adjust course and truly invest in making Alexa competitive with rival AI software. How this plays out remains to be seen, but when Amazon focuses engineering resources on a goal, it more often than not delivers. Another benefit Amazon enjoys is that the installed base of Alexa-powered devices is gigantic, which the company estimates is in the range of 400 million.

Apple is also looking to get into generative AI

Amazon, of course, isn’t the only company looking to revamp its voice assistant with generative AI capabilities. Apple will reportedly announce a similar overhaul to Siri at the company’s upcoming WWDC event. Remember, Apple’s annual developer conference is slated to kick off on June 10.

Rumor has it that Apple has doubled down on efforts to make a more advanced and capable version of Siri. Specifically, the next-gen version of Siri will reportedly employ generative AI on-device. However, its range of functionality won’t be as expansive as you might hope.

Bloomberg notes:

That includes services like auto-summarizing notifications from your iPhone, giving a quick synopsis of news articles and transcribing voice memos, as well as improving existing features that auto-populate your calendar and suggest apps. There will also be some enhancements to photos in the form of AI-based editing, but none of those features will impress people who have used AI in Adobe Inc.’s apps for the last several months.

More intriguing, though, is a rumor that iOS 18 might feature built-in ChatGPT integration. We’ve seen rumblings that Apple struck a deal with OpenAI, but we’ll likely have to wait until WWDC for official confirmation.



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