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Technology

Alexa has a new trick to answer your questions you’ll love (or hate)

Alexa is already smart, but Amazon engineers want to take it even further. They’re tweaking the voice assistant’s algorithm to predict what users will say before they have a chance to speak.

Soon, Alexa may even be able to guess items you want to order before you’ve thought of it. Tap or click here for even more clever uses for your Amazon Echo.

How will Alexa find out enough about you to make accurate guesses about the things you want? As it turns out, all Alexa needs to do is listen.

‘Alexa, what am I thinking of?’

Engineers Anjishnu Kumar and Anand Rathi explained in a blog post that Alexa will now be offering intelligent follow-up suggestions to user questions. It’s part of the company’s efforts to make communicating with the virtual assistant even more natural.

RELATED: New Alexa feature makes it easier to check on loved ones

The long-term goal is for conversations with Alexa to feel like real ones between human beings. According to the engineers, anticipating what comes next in a conversation is the key to unlocking smooth, natural dialogue.

Alexa works by matching audio patterns from your voice with pre-recorded responses and questions. For Alexa to accurately predict what a person will say next, it needs to listen for intonation and inflection cues.

To determine the next steps in conversation, engineers used deep-learning computers that tailored Alexa’s responses to previous user speech patterns and behavior. This made the assistant better at figuring out the conversation context.

An early prototype used by developers couldn’t quite figure out context at the beginning. When a customer asked for chicken recipes, it would follow up its answers by asking if they wanted it to make chicken noises. Maybe another time, Alexa.

For now, Alexa will provide relevant suggestions in addition to answering your questions. If you ask for the weather in a particular place, Alexa may ask to show you a live video stream of the area on your Echo Show. Clever!

How can I try out the new Alexa software?

You can test Alexa’s improved conversational skills right now without any additional updates. All the information Alexa needs to make predictive follow-up questions comes from Amazon’s cloud servers, so you don’t have to install any add-ons.

The technology isn’t perfect just yet, so don’t be surprised if Alexa makes some unusual suggestions after answering your questions. Every time you dismiss one of these dud responses, you’re helping the system get better at predicting.

This trial and error approach is much less controversial than the old way Alexa used to improve itself.

Tap or click here to see how Amazon got caught recording user conversations.

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