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Amazon gives Alexa a memory, better conversational skills

Aiming for more natural, frictionless interactions with Alexa, Amazon is rolling out some big enhancements to its voice-activated assistant.

Aiming for more natural, frictionless interactions with Alexa, Amazon is rolling out three big enhancements to its voice-activated assistant: Alexa can now store any information you want, and she can engage in more natural, multi-part interactions. Additionally, Amazon is making it easier to naturally discover new Alexa skills.

Ruhi Sarikaya, leader of the Alexa Brain initiative, explained in a blog post that Amazon wants its voice interface to offer customers more than just greater freedom of movement: "With the benefit of AI and machine-learning technologies, Alexa and similar services can learn about you, and conform to your needs."

Conforming to the user's needs includes helping it find the right "skills" out of the more than 40,000 skills from third-party developers. In the coming weeks, US customers will be able to ask an Amazon Echo a general question using natural phrases and requests and have Alexa respond with a specific, relevant skill. For instance, if you were to ask, "Alexa, how do I remove an oil stain from my shirt?" Alexa could reply with the Tide Stain Remover skill, which walks you through removing an oil stain. Amazon plans to gradually make this capability available to more and more users and skills in the US.

Amazon is also bringing a memory feature to Alexa. Customers in the US will soon be able to ask the assistant to save information, such as birthdays, and recall it later.

Lastly, Amazon is giving Alexa the ability to understand "multi-turn utterances." Alexa already supports two-turn interactions. For instance, a user could ask, "Alexa, what was Adele's first album?" followed by the command, "Alexa, play it."

Now, users can follow up with multiple questions or commands, without prefacing each statement with Alexa. For instance, a user could ask, "Alexa, how is the weather in Seattle?" followed by, "What about this weekend?" A user could also ask a follow-up question like, "How long does it take to get there?" and Alexa would understand you're asking about Seattle. Amazon is initially making this capability available in the US, the UK and Germany.

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