Amazon Wants its Voice Assistant to Know When You're in a Bad Mood

By Angela Chen on at

Virtual assistants are getting scarier with rumoured features like facial recognition and integrated Google services. Then there’s Alexa, the voice assistant baked into the Amazon Echo, which can’t even perform a Google search.

The Echo still isn't available here in the UK, but when it does arrive –it will be quite a bit more clever than in its current state. Amazon wants Alexa to be able tell when you’re mad and apologise quickly enough for not knowing which album you want her to play.

A source familiar with the Amazon Echo tells MIT Technology Review that researchers are working on natural-language-processing updates that will help it detect emotion in someone’s voice, as well as remember and connect known information about a user to their requests. For example, if Alexa knows that a user lives in Seattle, it’ll factor in that information when deciding how to answer the question “How are the Hawks doing?” Or, if Alexa knows its master likes to listen to Kanye, it’ll be more likely to recognise requests for his music in the future.

But Alexa will invariably mess something up, and that’s where the emotion-detection technology comes in. The software itself isn’t new – just think about all the times an automated telephone system has said, “I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand” after you lost your temper and started yelling. Amazon is simply hoping to incorporate a better and more sensitive version of this into Alexa.

All this is definitely part of Amazon’s attempt to improve Alexa as competitors are (supposedly) about to hit the market. Google’s rumoured Echo competitor makes almost too much sense given good Google’s voice recognition and search capabilities are. But at least Alexa might be the first to say “sorry” when you get mad at how dim it is. [MIT Technology Review]