Ask Alexa what time it is. She’ll have no problem telling you. But if you’re looking for answers to more complex questions or tidbits of trivia, Alexa may not have the answer.
Amazon is trying to solve that problem and help its virtual assistant become smarter. Under a new program, members of the public can answer a question and Alexa will pass it on to you.
It sounds like a good idea, but as we’ll show you, the program can be fraught with problems. We’ll also tell you how Amazon will try to minimize those problems.
Amazon crowdsources for answers
While Alexa may be the most popular virtual assistant, there’s no doubt that Google Assistant is the smartest. Google Assistant can answer a myriad of questions thanks to the vast and deep pool of information held in the Google search engine.
Alexa doesn’t have access to such a vast trove of information. It uses Microsoft’s often forgotten search engine Bing and Wikipedia, which can be vandalized by trolls.
To expand Alexa’s knowledge, Amazon began a beta testing system in December in which a small number of people were invited to answer questions Alexa didn’t have answers to. Now, the Alexa Answers project is open to all Amazon members.
When you sign up for Alexa Answers you’ll see a list of questions and you can choose the topics where you have the most knowledge. Amazon has “gamified” the process by giving points for submitting answers, how many times your answers were shared by Alexa and user ratings.
Community members earn badges and are ranked on a leaderboard.
When you ask the question that an Alexa Answers community member has successfully answered, Alexa will respond with, “According to an Amazon customer…”
How Amazon plans to avoid abuses
The internet is home to sages and fools, and the educated and the malicious. How will Amazon’s Alexa Answers know what is the correct answer and keep the trolls at bay?
Amazon says it uses automatic filtering to catch inappropriate and offensive content and language. It also uses a “combination of manual and automated processes to flag when a contributor is attempting to edit an answer several times,” Amazon spokesperson Kerry Hall told Komando.com.
As anyone who has visited sites such as Quora or Yahoo Answers knows, incorrect answers can receive many upvotes from users just for laughs, especially if the answers are ludicrous.
In an effort to curb this kind of abuse, Hall said, “customers and the Alexa Answers community can flag incorrect or inappropriate answers as well as up or down vote specific answers to help others know whether an answer is high-quality.”
But nothing is foolproof, something Amazon knows. Thousands of fake product reviews have been found on the company’s retail site.
Amazon does understand that the process will likely need tweaking and changes to achieve its overall goal of making Alexa smarter.
“High-quality answers are important to us, and this is something we take seriously,” Hall said. “We will continue to evolve Alexa Answers.”