Alexa Just Got an AI Makeover

Lauren Goode: When was the last time you used an Alexa gadget?

Michael Calore: I would say it was a couple of weeks ago with my Sonos.

Lauren Goode: Ah, right, the old Sonos Alexa integration.

Michael Calore: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: What did you ask it?

Michael Calore: I asked it to play KCRW, my favorite NPR station.

Lauren Goode: And how did Alexa respond?

Michael Calore: It gave me exactly what I was asking for, which was kind of shocking.

Lauren Goode: Huh. Well, what if I told you that Alexa is now entering the gen AI chat?

Michael Calore: I would say I’m not surprised, but also it fills me with a lot of questions like, are hallucinations going to start coming out of my speaker now?

Lauren Goode: I’m sorry. I don’t understand your query.

Michael Calore: Oh, boy.

Lauren Goode: Let me make something up for you though.

Michael Calore: Oh, boy.

Lauren Goode: We should talk about this.

Michael Calore: Let’s do it.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

Lauren Goode: Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.

Michael Calore: And I’m Michael Calore. I’m a senior editor at WIRED.

Lauren Goode: And we’re joined this week by WIRED senior writer Will Knight, who is Zooming from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Will, welcome back to the Lab.

Will Knight: Hello. Thanks for having me back.

Lauren Goode: So, Will, I have to pull this one quote from your recent WIRED story, just to start us off. Rohit Prasad, who leads AI development at Amazon, told you this week, “If I ask Alexa how the Red Sox are doing and they have just lost, it will come back with an empathetic tone.” OK. One, Will, this is the most Massachusetts statement ever. I’m glad you’re our roving reporter on the ground there in the land of Massachusetts people. Two, it pretty much sums up the major makeover that Alexa is getting. So, tell us about this, what happened at Amazon’s annual product event earlier this week?

Will Knight: Yeah, OK. They announced that, as you mentioned, Alexa is going to be using generative AI, one of these large language models, which we’ve heard so much about, that go into ChatGPT. Amazon’s been kind of quiet on the language model front, but it turns out they’ve been working on putting this into Alexa, which is, as you also say, kind of an obvious step. In a time when we’ve got ChatGPT that can do all these amazing things, having voice assistants that only respond to one or two commands is kind of lame. So now Alexa will try and do much more complex back and forth and they’re trying to build things on top of that, like the intonation related to the Red Sox, who I have to confess, I don’t know if they lost all one.

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