Amazon has announced that they’re launching a new beta feature for Alexa that will allow the voice assistant to automatically launch a skill, even if you’ve never enabled it, if they think the skill can fulfill your request. The new feature, called Name-free Interaction, is an option for Alexa skill developers to implement so that Alexa’s machine-learning model can better understand the capabilities of a skill. This will result in Alexa checking the list of tens of thousands of skills for one that can answer your question if Alexa itself is unable.
An example Amazon has given for this new Alexa capability is if someone asks “Alexa, where is the best surfing today near Santa Barbara?” Since Alexa does not have surfing information by default, it would use the new Name-free Interaction feature to find a skill that can answer the question. If a surfing skill exists that can answer the question, Alexa will automatically launch the skill and pass it the question.
Amazon is requesting that Alexa skill developers update their skills with detailed lists containing what information the skill contains. In the above surfing example, for a skill to automatically launch, it isn’t enough that the skill declares it has surfing information. It would have to declare that it specifically has surfing information for Santa Barbara. This avoids the scenario where a Hawaii-specific surfing skill, for example, launches and can’t answer the question.
Another example given is a request for Alexa to “play relaxing sounds with crickets.” There are numerous relaxing sound skills available, but Alexa will not automatically launch a particular skill unless it explicitly identifies itself as having cricket sounds. These deeper checks should avoid having a skill launch that can’t fulfill the request, which would be worse than no skill launching at all.
Alexa skill developers will need to update their skills before they become available for name-ree interaction, so it’ll probably be a little while before Alexa users begin experiencing automatic skill launches on a regular basis. If the feature works as described, it should make the tens of thousands of Alexa skills much more useful to the average Alexa user.