Amazon plays catch-up with Alexa generative AI, shows off new, refreshed hardware

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Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday unveiled a slate of new and refreshed devices and updated its Alexa voice assistant with generative artificial intelligence to attract users to the unprofitable product as competition grows from chatbots like Google’s Bard.

Alexa will converse more naturally, losing its robotic tone of nearly a decade, and answer questions like the start time for football games and recipe ideas. It will also be able to compose and recite poems, Amazon showed at the company’s annual product launch in Arlington, Virginia.

Amazon introduced Alexa in 2014, but has not found a consistent means to make it profitable, instead driving shoppers toward the company’s website for more purchases. Typically accessed through speakers or enabled televisions, the service provides spoken answers to user queries, like the local weather, and can serve as a hub to control home appliances.

The Seattle-based company has worked to pep up Alexa particularly after OpenAI’s ChatGPT burst on the scene in November with longform written answers to complex queries. Similar chatbots have sparked an investor frenzy in generative AI startups.

“You can now have a near-human-like conversations with Alexa,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s hardware chief, said at the event.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that morale among workers in Amazon’s hardware unit has suffered over shifting strategies and concerns that the company is not producing popular consumer devices. Many products under development, people familiar with matter told Reuters, are simply meant to put Alexa in more rooms of the home, such as a carbon monoxide detector with the service built in.

Limp, who is leaving the company before year’s end, showed how one could ask a series of questions without repeatedly using the “Alexa” wake word, a new feature for at least some Alexa devices, like the refreshed Echo Show 8.

At the event, Amazon also introduced refreshed versions of children’s Fire tablets, a soundbar for televisions and new search capabilities on the FireTV service to find free content.

Among the new devices Amazon announced is the $180 Echo Hub wall-mounted touchscreen for controlling gadgets throughout the home. Amazon also showed off a new feature for its Alexa app that can map out internet-connected devices throughout a user’s home for easier control.

Additional announcements included updates to the Echo Frames eyeglasses, with Alexa embedded, and refreshed versions of its Blink outdoor security cameras and Eero Wi-Fi extenders.

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