Report highlights challenges in Alexa Gen-AI redesign, possibly explaining overpromised, underdelivered Fire TV search update

Amazon is struggling with its generative AI redesign of Alexa, according to a report from Fortune (syndicated free on Yahoo). The report, which sources numerous former Amazon employees, suggests that the new Alexa may never live up to the contextually aware and more conversational version that was demoed at Amazon’s big devices event last fall. That’s, reportedly, due to Amazon’s struggle with supporting all the current Alexa capabilities with the new LLM-based Alexa.

Upgrading an existing voice assistant from understanding a predefined set of specific requests to one that understands an open-ended set of requests through the use of a large language model (LLM), without losing any capabilities, must be a monumental task. That’s likely why Google has chosen to separate its new LLM-based Gemini assistant from its classic Google Assistant. Amazon seems to think it’s up for the task of converting Alexa without separating the old from the new, but it doesn’t seem to be going well.

This likely explains why the Fire TV’s new voice search capabilities, which started rolling out earlier this month, are missing most of the best aspects that were demoed last fall. While the Fire TV’s new voice search can pull up results in a lot of new and interesting ways, it’s missing the ability to fine-tune and filter results through a natural back-and-forth conversation with Alexa.

When the Fire TV’s new voice search was first revealed, Amazon said the results would be specific to the Fire TV profile that was currently logged in and that it would, somehow, take into account that profile’s viewing history. Neither of those seems to have arrived either, at least not in any substantial way. While it’s difficult to nail down precisely what has changed with the new search, Amazon made no mention of a Fire TV user’s profile or viewing history in its announcement post for the new Fire TV search.

If Amazon sticks to tradition, in about three months, it will hold its next fall devices event, where it will reveal new Alexa and Fire TV hardware and software. Given how much time has already passed since the last event, Amazon will probably save the release of any further Alexa improvements for after this year’s event, even if it means re-announcing the same improvements a second time.

6 comments
  1. Erik says:

    Amazon spent the most on research and development in the fiscal year 2022, with over 73 billion U.S. dollars. More than double than the next in this list, Meta. (Source: Statista)

    Where does all this money go? Probably a lot of it is AWS etc. but they seem to have a serious problem when looking at all this…

    • Manabi says:

      Generative AI is VERY expensive to build up the model and keep it running, since it requires a lot of expensive compute resources. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Alexa voice search is eating up a significant chunk of that R&D number.

      There’s a decent chance it never fully works as the promised and since Amazon was already struggling with the costs for Alexa this is just going to make them higher. I fail to see how you could possibly monetize a voice assistant in a way that wouldn’t run off users but bring in a decent amount of money.

      • Erik says:

        Sure, it’s expensive but look at the stats: Amazon R&D expenses are more than double that of the next in line, Meta with $35 and Alphabet/Google with $28 billion.

  2. Jp says:

    Who would have thought laying off most of your Alexa support and then trying to achieve big goals with AI would have worked out? Oh yeah executives trying to move the short term needle for long term costs.

  3. Baehr says:

    A couple of years ago I predicted that one day I would ask Alexa to turn on a light, and Alexa will reply, “that will cost you a dollar.”

    Those with disabilities, who rely on Alexa the most, will probably be the first to suffer from Alexa monetization.

    And it’s become obvious that Amazon doesn’t care anymore. When Alexa screwed up something, you used to be able to say “Alexa, you got that wrong” and a trouble ticket would be generated. These days, Alexa just tells you to call (an already overburdened) Customer Service.

    • Manabi says:

      I don’t doubt they’ll try something like that, but disabled users tend to not have high incomes. They’ll either quickly switch to something else or stop using Alexa entirely, because they can’t afford to. And even able-bodied users will be seriously turned off by that and abandon Alexa in droves.

      So if Amazon tries that, they’ll end up running off most of Alexa’s userbase and lose even more money than they are currently.

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