Amazon extends Alexa to enable ambient intelligence

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Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant technology isn’t just about natural language processing (NLP) anymore, now it has become a platform that’s aiming for ambient intelligence.

At Amazon’s Alexa Live 2022 event today, the company announced a series of updates and outlined its general strategy for enabling ambient intelligence that will help transform how users in all types of different settings will interact with technology and benefit from artificial intelligence (AI). Among the announcements made at the event is the new Alexa Voice Service (AVS) SDK 3.0 to help developers build voice services, and new tools including the Alexa Routines Kit to support development of multistep routines that can be executed via voice.

The concept of ambient intelligence is about having technology available when users need it and without the need for users to learn how to operate a service.

“Some companies have a vision for technology that’s rooted in phone apps or in a VR headset,” Aaron Rubenson, VP of Amazon Alexa, told VentureBeat. “Our goal is to build technology that allows customers to spend more time looking at the world and interacting with people.” 


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Bringing Alexa ambient intelligence to the enterprise

Rubenson noted that there is a growing number of over 1 million developers that are building interactive skills using Alexa.

The Alexa ecosystem isn’t just about Amazon-branded Echo personal assistant devices. It’s a broader market in which multiple hardware vendors across industries integrate Alexa and its ambient intelligence. Rubenson said that Amazon has partners across a broad range of device types ranging from smart speakers, TVs, computers, wearables and appliances. 

“For the enterprise use case of building Alexa into physical devices, we see strong and broad momentum,” Rubenson said.

Amazon is also seeing momentum across multiple industry verticals, including hospitality, healthcare and automotive, among others. The Alexa Smart Properties service enables property managers for hotels or operators of hospitals or even commercial office spaces to manage an ambient intelligence deployment.

“In the assisted living area, we have folks like Eschaton Assisted Living and Masonic homes that are building Alexa into their community members’ rooms to help them stay connected with loved ones,” Rubenson said. “We also have a number of smart residential facilities and apartment buildings, for example, that come with Alexa built into the experience.”

Using AI to enable hunches and routines for ambient intelligence

Alexa got its start by responding to users uttering a voice command to do something. The modern Alexa service goes a bit beyond that, anticipating what a user might want, with the concept of hunches and then enabling those hunches with routines.

Rubenson said one example of this is robotic vacuum maker iRobot, which now uses hunches to analyze the usage patterns of users to recommend a routine that will optimize the cleaning process.

“One of the hallmarks of ambient intelligence is that it’s proactive,” Rubenson said. “Today, more than 30% of smart home interactions are initially initiated by Alexa without customers saying anything.”

To further support the development of proactive capabilities, Amazon is now rolling out its Alexa Routines Kit. The new kit enables Alexa skills developers to preconfigure contextually relevant routines, and then offer them to customers when they’re actually using the relevant skill.

One example cited by Rubenson of how routines work is in the automotive industry. He said that Jaguar Land Rover is using the Alexa Routines Kit to create a routine they call good night, which will automatically lock the doors, provide a notification of the fuel level or the charge level of the car and then turn on guardian mode, which checks for unauthorized activity.

Building businesses with ambient intelligence skills

As part of the Alexa Live event, Amazon is also rolling out a series of efforts to help developers build better skills, and make more money doing it.

The new Skill Developer Accelerator Program (SDAP) is an effort to reward custom skill developers for taking certain actions that Amazon knows results in higher quality skills based on historical data. Rubenson said that the program will include monetary incentives and also incentives in the forms of promotional credits for developers that take these actions. 

There is also a Skills Quality Coach that will analyze skills individually, assign a skill quality score, and then provide individualized recommendations to the developer about how to improve that skill.

“We’re trying to build this ever-present assistant and advisor that can connect customers to a broad range of information and services, and also take action on behalf of customers,” Rubenson said. “That’s where we think we tip over from just being ambient interactions with technology to something that starts to feel a little bit more like the ambient intelligence.”

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