Echo, Alexa Are Only For Starters, Bezos Says - InformationWeek

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6/1/2016
01:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Echo, Alexa Are Only For Starters, Bezos Says

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos dishes on the millions of hours of work the company has put into creating the Echo and its AI assistant Alexa, and explains what's to come.

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Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is confident his company's investment in Alexa will prove fruitful. Bezos shared a few details about Amazon's efforts at the Code Conference, where he was interviewed by well-known tech reporter Walt Mossberg.

"We've been working on it behind the scenes for four years," said Bezos of Echo and Alexa in Reode. "There's so much more to come. It's just the tip of the iceberg." 

Bezos claims Amazon has been working on Alexa, the Echo's voice-powered assistant, for more than four years. The software development team numbers more than 1,000 employees. Much of Alexa's smarts come from "skills" that are added by Amazon's partners. These skills allow Echo owners to ask Alexa for a pizza, for an Uber ride, or to play a favorite playlist. The underlying artificial intelligence needs to grow, too, and the Echo and Alexa are ahead of the competition, Bezos says.

(Image: Amazon)

(Image: Amazon)

"There will be huge advances," he said. "Bigger companies like Amazon have an advantage because you need a lot of data to do extraordinary things." Amazon has nearly two decades of online shopping behavior to sift through in order to help Alexa learn.

He also touched on the issue of privacy and data collection, saying that Amazon has always aimed to be transparent. "When you collect and store data, you have to be clear about what you're doing." That idea is why Amazon greets users by name when they visit the site.

Bezos wouldn't answer Mossberg's questions about Apple's rumored Siri device and Google's Home assistant device, but conceded that artificial intelligence is growing at a fast rate. Apple and Google have access to user data as well, and will certainly put that data to use in whatever home-based assistants each brings to market.

[See 12 Ways AI Will Disrupt Your C-Suite.]

Apple's Siri-based device may be a glorified Apple TV. The Google Home box is based on Chromecast technology, and it provides access to the Google Assistant bot. iPhone and iPad owners have been yapping at Siri for several years, while Google has search data to mine. Bezos was careful not to write off the competition entirely.

Google announced its device last month and plans to sell it in the fall. (Apple hasn't confirmed that it even is working on such a device.)

Mossberg's interview of Bezos covered a range of topics and touched lightly on the idea of wearables.

"I think [wearables are] a super interesting market, and I obviously can't talk about our future roadmap," said Bezos. "But I think that's also in its infancy. I think you're going to see a bunch of different products be successful there." Bezos dodged the question when asked directly if Amazon is working on a wearable, but he didn't say "no."

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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