To keep up with the growing use of voice-enabled intelligent assistants, Amazon has added yet another new skill for Alexa: intercom-like announcements. The new feature started rolling out yesterday to customers in the U.S. and Canada.
Alexa Announcements lets people send messages in their own voices from one Amazon Echo speaker to other compatible Echo devices in the home. Users can activate the feature by saying things such as, "Alexa, announce," "Alexa, tell everyone," or "Alexa, broadcast."
Amazon's latest functionality mirrors the broadcast feature that Google announced for its Home devices in November.
Meanwhile, Amazon's share prices have slumped over the past few days as President Donald Trump has aimed Twitter criticisms against the company, whose founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post. Stung by the newspaper's investigations into various White House-related scandals, Trump has accused the publication of "fake news" and harangued Amazon for "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money."
Alexa's Growing Smarts
Alexa's new intercom function, which works in one direction only and requires all Echo devices to be set to the same user profile, is just the latest feature among many that Amazon has been launching for its intelligent assistant. For example, last month the company began supporting Alexa-based text messaging, audio calls, and video calls on mobile devices with the app.
Amazon is also contemplating another feature that would let users make peer-to-peer payments via Alexa, according to a report today in The Wall Street Journal. Citing unnamed sources familiar with Amazon's strategy, the paper said it's a move that would push the retailing giant into new competition with the payment efforts of PayPal Holdings Inc.'s, Venmo as well as big banks.
"In the next five years, we will see conversational AI get smarter on multiple dimensions as we make further advances with machine learning and reasoning," Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Alexa machine learning, said recently in a Q&A on Amazon's blog. "With these advances, we will see Alexa become more contextually aware in how she recognizes, understands, and responds to requests from users. Alexa will become smarter more quickly as unsupervised learning will dominate how she learns."
First launched in 2014, Alexa provides voice-enabled assistance to users with smart speakers, such as Amazon's Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus. Beyond Amazon, other companies offering such voice-based smart services include Google (Google Assistant on Google Home devices), Apple (Siri on Home Pod devices), and Microsoft (Cortana on Invoke speakers from Harman Kardon).
Wall Street Woes
While Amazon leads the tech market in a number of areas, such as smart speakers and cloud computing, it's also being targeted for criticism by the U.S. president. Trump has tweeted numerous complaints about Amazon and The Washington Post in recent days, causing the company's value to slide on the stock market.
In addition to his comments on Twitter, Trump said on Air Force One last night that he would "take a very serious look" at Amazon's business, in particular its sales tax obligations and its use of the U.S. Postal Service for product deliveries to customers.
Officials in the White House have tried without success to debunk Trump's belief that "Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service," according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal.