Echoes of the future: What will Alexa’s next five years look like?
5 Feb 2020
As Alexa turns five, Sarah De Martin, Artefact’s UK MD, predicts what’s next for voice search
“It’ll never catch on!”
Famous last words; Alexa, which many people dismissed as Amazon’s little pet project, was actually a mark of genius.
Just over five years after its initial launch, we’re now 200 million Alexa-enabled devices sold and 90 thousand voice skills down the road. Alexa has expanded beyond our homes – she can now be found cruising in our cars, on our smartphones, earbuds, spectacles, and discreetly in connected rings.
So… what’s next?
The first thing to acknowledge is that voice isn’t a fad. It’s not going anywhere, because it’s actually useful. Moreover, many of us are starting to trust it. Last year, six-out-of-ten smart speaker owners claimed to have made a purchase brokered by their voice assistant in the previous twelve months.
It’s bridging the gap between people’s domestic and working lives, and that’s only going to accelerate going forward. How? By capturing even more facets of users’ behaviour.
There’s a good reason why Alexa made it onto Fitbit last year (although it remains to be seen whether it will remain there post-Google acquisition), and why Amazon has launched smart glasses. Alexa will become more capable with the release of each new device that taps into additional data sources through sensory inputs.
Imagine the potential for ecommerce – could Amazon’s search rankings and ad strategies ever be dictated by how fast your heart’s beating, or by what your eye is drawn to on the page?
When it comes down to it, Amazon exists to sell, and its success has been built on its search and recommendations engine. You sometimes hear people say Amazon knows what they want before they do. And the thing is: this doesn’t even sound far-fetched anymore. Future iterations of Alexa will become Amazon’s secret weapon by understanding what makes each of us tick.
The more Alexa-embedded devices there are, the easier this will become. We’re already seeing this strategy unfold. Alexa was everywhere at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. She was in motorcycle helmets, electric toothbrushes, and even beds, the latter allowing users to dim the lights from the comfort of a $4,950 berth.
Of course, this is a tech show. It’s overblown and crazy – not all of these items will make an impact. Some will be dismissed as novelties, others will be deemed too fiddly, and some might simply over-step what consumers deem acceptable.
This echoes Amazon’s efforts at HQ – many devices won’t get beyond the limited beta phase, but each experiment lays down the groundwork for the next.
One thing’s for certain, though. In the next five years, Alexa will transform from a reactive assistant to a proactive companion. According to Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, Alexa will become increasingly embedded in our daily lives, taking a more active role, and even leading two-way conversations. The logical outcome is home robotics, and if anyone can make that a mass-market proposition, it’s going to be Amazon.
It seems the future has finally caught up with Amazon’s vision; by this, I’m referring as much to the human aspect as I am the mechanical. It’s easy to be sucked into the brave new world of voice and the convenience it brings – all valid. However, the implications are equally ‘Big Brother’.
There have been instances reported where customers don’t interact directly with Alexa, yet are targeted with products based on their private conversations.
And yet it’s… fine.
There’s no massive moral outrage, people aren’t throwing their Echoes into the streets, and to be honest, there’s little more than the occasional disgruntled tweet. It comes down to the perceived value exchange, and it seems most Echo users are happy to surrender their personal data for convenience.
And while there are still areas we’re not totally comfortable with yet – the use of ‘idle’ Alexa recordings in murder cases, for example – we’ve come a long way, and Amazon’s intelligence is only set to unfold further across the customer experience.
Here’s to the next five years.
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This article first appeared in Customer Experience Magazine.