Amazon to Upgrade Alexa with AI, May Add Subscription Fee

Amazon is planning to add generative artificial intelligence to its decade-old voice assistant, Alexa, which will require a monthly fee to offset the cost of the technology, according to reports. Although the new Alexa price plan has not been disclosed, it is not expected to be included in the $139 yearly Amazon Prime plan. The possible move comes as Apple is also undergoing an AI overhaul of its voice assistant, Siri. Once considered precocious by many consumers, Siri and Alexa are now playing catch-up to AI assistants from leaders in the space including Google, Microsoft and OpenAI.

Amazon’s move coincides with OpenAI unveiling GPT-4o, which powers “a chatbot that can have two-way conversations, while Alexa is still widely used for kitchen timers and announcing the weather,” CNBC writes, describing how the technology — a pet project under Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos — came under profit and performance pressure when Andy Jassy took over as CEO in 2021.

CNBC says Jassy was “underwhelmed” with Alexa’s capabilities, relating an anecdote about how the “avid sports fan asked the voice assistant the live score of a recent game, according to a person in the room, and was openly frustrated that Alexa didn’t know an answer that was so easy to find online.”

The New York Times reports that Apple is revamping Siri for two-way chat, possibly to be revealed at WWDC in June.

With that in mind, and “Microsoft infusing its products with Copilot, and Google planning to integrate Gemini across Android and its other offerings, Amazon must demonstrate substantial added value to justify a paid subscription for Alexa,” ZDNet posits, sharing “five ways Amazon (and its competitors) could make an AI subscription worthwhile.”

These include “proactive assistance” that anticipates daily needs without being prompted, advanced customization for personalized attention, and the ability to integrate third party services.

“Providing private or family-specific large language model (LLM) instances would enhance privacy,” ZDNet suggests, rounding out the wish list with “comprehensive integration and accessibility.”

“Consumer access to Amazon’s Titan LLM through Alexa should be compelling enough to replace other AI products, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Copilot,” ZDNet suggests, noting that “to achieve this capability, Titan LLM must offer seamless integration with popular apps, functioning as a plugin across devices.”

“As of 2023, Amazon said it had sold more than 500 million Alexa-enabled devices, giving the company a foothold with consumers,” writes CNBC, which said Amazon declined comment on the planned update other than to reference an April shareholder letter that stated “the company was building a ‘substantial number of GenAI applications across every Amazon consumer business,’ adding that that included ‘an even more intelligent and capable Alexa.’”

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