Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, hasn’t had a bad start in life. In part due to Amazon’s seemingly perpetual sale on all things Echo, Alexa has found its way into an awful lot of homes, but you don’t have to live with it for very long to bump up against its obvious limitations.
The father of Alexa, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist of Alexa artificial intelligence, Rohit Prasad, dropped an interesting hint of how these limitations could be lifted at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital AI conference in San Francisco. “The only way to make smart assistants really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world,” he said.
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Of course Alexa already has eyes of sorts in some devices – the Echo Show devices with cameras, for example. So what’s next? Prasad didn’t elaborate on that, but it’s hard not to see it as an ambition – however far fetched it appears at the moment – to give Alexa a robot body, making it a virtual assistant that can not just tell you things, but move around and perhaps one day perform simple tasks.
That matches up with rumours of Amazon’s long-term plans for Alexa. A report from Bloomberg last year discussed a “top-secret” internal project codenamed Vesta, being developed by Lab126, Amazon’s hardware R&D centre. The report discussed prototypes that could navigate from room to room autonomously, like driverless cars. Only smaller.
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It’s not clear what the advantage of this would be yet, other than avoiding the need to buy multiple Echo devices, but it’s a tantalising possible future. And Prasad’s words suggest that Amazon is well aware of the potential.
Does Alexa need a robot body? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews.