Amazon Alexa could get an AI upgrade - but it’ll cost you

Amazon is adding AI to Alexa to make it more useful, but you'll need to sign up for a subscription

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen), Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (4th gen)
(Image credit: Amazon)
Quick summary

Amazon is focusing on adding AI features to Alexa, its smart speakers' digital assistant. The features will be subscription-based but there's no release date as yet.

Apple isn't the only tech giant investing in AI: Amazon's been spending big bucks on it too, and a new report says that it's coming to Alexa. Amazon has reportedly urged developers to make a product that's up there with ChatGPT and similar systems, and like Apple it wants to add AI smarts to its personal digital assistant – Alexa, its Siri rival.

That's the good news. The bad is that it'll probably cost you.

What's Amazon up to with AI?

You've probably seen some of Amazon's AI investments already, such as its AI-generated summaries of user reviews on product listing pages. And there's much more where that came from. Amazon has its own system called Titan, a large language model that it currently sells to businesses who want it to generate tex and images, summarise documents and populate product listings. And according to CNBC, it wants to bring Titan into Alexa by turning its digital assistant into an AI-powered chatbot with a more conversational voice interface. 

CNBC's sources don't know exactly how that's going to work, but they do know that Amazon has been doing some extensive re-organising of its Alexa team and getting them to focus squarely on AI. And they know how Amazon plans to profit from it: the firm intends to charge for it as a kind of Prime for AI. According to the report a monthly charge of $20 "was floated" but that's since dropped to just under $10. That would make Alexa about half the price of rivals such as OpenAI.

As yet there's no indication of a rollout strategy or release date, but an AI-powered Alexa would be significant: Amazon's smart speakers have sold by the truckload and continue to do so, but Amazon's own developers reportedly admit that for many of us an Echo soon becomes little more than a volume control and an "expensive alarm clock". 

Like Apple's Siri, present-day Alexa isn't exactly delivering the exciting assistant-powered lifestyle we hoped for – and while in my experience Alexa is more flexible and reliable than Apple's offering, it still feels like its potential is a long way from being realised. A smarter Alexa could be a seriously impressive upgrade.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series; her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. When she’s not scribbling, Carrie is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind (unquietmindmusic).