This is the "first time generative AI has been applied at this scale. It’s about to get much easier to interact with your home assistant." Strong words from Amazon at it's annual product showcase which saw not only updates to its Echo, Fire TV, Ring, Blink, and Eero devices but also a major change in the way Alexa works.
First of all, there's the way it speaks. Amazon compared the same sentence as Alexa would have delivered it in 2014 with the upcoming 2024 language model. It wasn't just that the pronunciation was better, but there was a wider change in expression in the voice that made it sound much more real.
It's when there is interaction between you and Alexa though that will get the biggest makeover. In these speech-to-speech occasions, as Amazon calls it, the new large language model (LLM) can react faster and without additional prompts. This feels more like a conversation than a call and answer.
The conversation mode enters the device into a continuous chat that you can leave and come back to without having to go back over the same points. The responses shown (though part of a demo) showed a lot more character than I'm used to seeing and allowed you to delve into subjects much easier.
The potential for this in the home is one thing, but Amazon is also working with partners such as BMW to bring this into cars too. Here there is huge scope to bring a Knight Rider car experience to life, with a car that not only 'gets you' but can respond like a human.
What was clear from the 2023 showcase was that Amazon is offering a full eco-system with its devices and this generative AI is at the heart of it. From editing images on the Fire TV Stick to the Eye Gaze function on the Fire Max 11 tablet that allows hands and voice-free operation.
Alexa remains at the heart of the eco-system though, and will be even more useful in its upcoming 2024 form. If people can speak to Alexa like a person they will get more out of those conversations than just turning on lights and setting a timer.
Anyone who thought Alexa's days were numbered would definitely change their mind if they saw this level of interaction. I've used Alexa devices throughout my home for years but I'm genuinely excited about the potential of the new updates to the large language model.