Amazon is enlisting customers to help make its digital brain Alexa better at answering questions.
The tech giant today unveiled a new invite-only program called Alexa Answers, which will allow some customers to answer questions that Alexa isn’t able to comprehend today. Customers invited to the program can go to a website to see a list of questions Alexa can’t answer today and provide information to fill in the blanks. When someone asks the question of their Alexa-powered device in the future, the digital brain will respond with the customer-supplied answer.
Amazon says it has been testing the service internally, and the beta program has produced “100,000 responses which have been given to customers millions of times,” according to a blog post about the program.
The technology world is filled with cautionary tails of people corrupting efforts to make machines smarter. You don’t even have to leave Amazon’s home region of Seattle to find a high-profile example. Two years ago, Microsoft shut down its millennial-minded chatbot experiment Tay within just 24 hours after the bot expressed racist and inappropriate leanings to some users.
However, Amazon says it has put several safeguards in place to make sure inaccurate or offensive content doesn’t slip into Alexa’s dialog. Amazon has automated filters to weed out offensive questions from appearing on the Alexa Answers website and prevent profanity and other offensive language from showing up in answers.
There is a community element as well, according to Amazon, as Alexa customers will be able to up and down vote answers as they hear them. Answers that receive a lot of down votes will be removed.
Though Alexa has taken the early lead in the digital assistant competition, the lack of a previously established search engine behind it, like the Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana have, is a challenge. Alexa Answers is an example of Amazon’s push to make Alexa smarter, beyond the more 50,000 skills it can execute.