Alexa is getting chattier as Amazon's AI guesses what you really wanted

Alexa is about to get chattier, but Amazon thinks a more vocal AI will be welcome if she can correctly intuit what you might want out of the conversation. While Alexa-powered smart speakers have been able to run in conversational mode for some months now, asking back and forth questions, a new update being rolled out will help the assistant figure out what Amazon is referring to as "latent goals" from users.

They're outcomes that are "implicit in customer requests but not directly expressed," according to the company. Think along the lines of someone asking how long it takes to boil an egg, and then Alexa predicting that they'll probably be interested in a timer for that period as well.

It'll mean more follow-up suggestions, based on that latent goal intuition. After giving an answer to the egg boiling query, Alexa might now ask "Should I set a timer for seven minutes?"

Amazon says that, while there are obviously plenty of possible follow-ups that could be relevant, it'll be relatively choosy in which it selects. For a start, it'll take into account whether users have had multi-skill suggestion conversations in the past, as well as whether the initial request is relevant to there being a latent goal. General learnings over time from users asking similar questions, and how they interact with follow-ups if offered, will also shape that model.

There's an explanation into the various discovery model pathways and the active learning that Alexa is doing over at the Amazon Science blog. Basically, though, it boils down to figuring out whether a latent goal is present based on previous interactions, picking out the key elements of that request on which to base further suggestions, and then picking out structures which can lead to further Alexa skills or third-party skills being called into play. Experiences which underperform can be automatically suppressed, Amazon says.

Developers of third-party Alexa skills will be able to make those more likely to be called upon, but even without modifications those third-party abilities can still be implemented. Alexa latent goal identification is rolling out now to users in the US, in cases where Alexa is set to English.