Amazon is hinting at Alexa's future functionality (AMZN)


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Alexa, Amazon’s AI-powered voice assistant, provides the ecommerce titan with a direct portal into tens of millions of consumers’ homes.

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As the installed base for its smart speakers and other Alexa-enabled devices continues to grow — Business Insider Intelligence estimates that there will be about 500 million smart speakers in US homes by 2024, with more than half of them powered by Amazon’s assistant — Amazon appears to be looking at new ways that it can use Alexa to gather more information about those consumers as well as meet, or even anticipate, their needs.

Amazon is reportedly taking steps toward developing new Alexa features and gathering data that could broaden the assistant’s functionality. Here’s what each move means:

  • The company received a patent that could allow Alexa to take actions without requiring a “wake word” to trigger it. Consumers would be able to say, for instance, “play music, Alexa,” rather than needing to say the wake word “Alexa” before the command. This small but significant change would allow consumers to interact more naturally with the assistant, which could help Amazon boost engagement and remove potential barriers to making purchases or ordering services by voice. But such steps would also raise privacy concerns, as it would mean Amazon’s always-listening devices wouldn’t just start processing upon hearing a wake word. Instead, they would always be interpreting any voices they pick up and would act upon prior commands once they hear a wake word.
  • Amazon is also looking to improve camera-based body scanning, which could lead to a renaissance for devices like the Echo Look. Amazon’s Body Labs unit is conducting a study where it produces 3D models of participants based on scans, photos, and videos in order to “learn about diversity among body shapes.” Amazon could eventually add body scanning tech to camera-equipped devices such as the Echo Look — and potentially even home security systems from subsidiaries like Blink and Ring — to offer consumers personalized clothing recommendations that fit well based on 3D modeling. Such a service could boost Amazon’s continuing move into apparel.
  • And it’s pondering an Alexa-enabled wearable that would reportedly be able to monitor the user’s emotional state. Though there aren’t many details readily available on this wrist-worn device, it could potentially help Amazon to better anticipate how users are feeling and thus what sorts of products they’d be looking to purchase or services they’d want to use. The company would need to weigh such benefits against potential backlash to a mood-reading device, and consumer worries about the amount of data that the e-commerce giant can access and wield for better targeting of ads and marketing.

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