Amazon’s Virtual Assistant, Alexa, Will Be Able To Pick Up On Your Emotions Soon
Do you feel like your family and friends don’t understand your erratic emotions? Well, there’s not much out there to help you with that, but Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa will soon understand your feelings. Ummm… yay? Alexa is the voice of Amazon Echo, a home automation device that hit the market back in 2014. Amazon Echo (which can be yours for just $179) is able to do quite a few tasks, including sharing a daily calendar, turning off lights, and even calling out bingo numbers to your friends. It’s a little unnerving to have a machine trying to read your mind (what if you have an embarrassing sex dream, will Alexa know about those too?!), but it will also make life so much easier.
According to a report by MIT Technology Review, researchers for Amazon are refining their techniques for how virtual assistants like Alexa can better process language. But, with stiff competition on the way, Amazon wants to take it a step further and design the device to pick up on the emotions in a user’s voice to determine their needs.
This concept has been discussed for a while in the tech world. MIT professor Rosalind Picard explored the idea of emotionally sensitive personal technology in her 1997 book Affective Computing. In the book, she said matching a computer’s voice to a person would make communication more effective. This makes sense – after all, don’t you get pissed at a monotone automated system when you are yelling “REPRESENTATIVE!!” for the 15689 time?
Google’s recent announcement of Google Home — a device that works similarly to Echo — as well as persistent rumors about Apple opening up Siri to app developers to create their own home automation device are both proof that Amazon was on to something big with Echo. Now, Alexa’s response to a person’s emotions is going to completely change the way everyone interacts with devices. Instead of us swiping, downloading, and scrambling to figure out technology, it will instead work to figure us out.
This can be a great thing. The source behind the announcement says Alexa will use probabilities to interpret unclear requests, so it will be better at recognizing your local slang and hometown references. And, if it pisses you off and won’t do what you ask it to do, it can actually apologize to you for being annoying. Finally, someone who’s sole job is to try to read my mind and do exactly what I want.
On top of attending to our emotional needs, Alexa can also be a bit scary. We have all seen the “oh God, we created machines, and now they are going to kill us all” movies, so interacting with a machine that can read us like a book will feel weird at first. Right now, everything is still in development, but it will be interesting to see how the improved Alexa changes how technology works. For now, we have to keep telling people how we feel — how old school.