Amazon has announced the US availability of Alexa Answers, a service where contributors can answer questions that the digital assistant was unable to. The program has been in invite-only trial for the last year, but now has a much larger pool of volunteers to pull from.
With answers potentially added to Alexa’s knowledge bank, users may be worried she’ll go the way of Tay AI. Without precautions, a few trolls could ruin her replies. However, it’s worth noting that Amazon has several systems in place to mitigate such problems.
Users who answer questions will be able to earn badges and gain points, moving their way up a leaderboard. Others can rate responses, flag incorrect answers, and cycle between answers if there are multiple high-ranking ones.
It will also automatically filter out bad language and political angles. This will combine with human editors who will look to maintain quality, with Alexa less likely to use the answers of users who consistently submit bad information.
“We’re leaning into the positive energy and good faith of the contributors, and we use machine learning and algorithms to weed out the noisy few, the bad few. But we’re not going to suppress the magical experience we can give to 99 customers because one person had something different in mind,” Bill Barton, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa information, told Fast Company.
In essence, Amazon is crowdsourcing data for its AI without having to pay a dime. This should help it to compete with the likes of Google, which has its search infrastructure to lean on. Realistically, users will simply be googling answers before replying so this is a savvy workaround.
Still, there are some concerns with the platform. Not all information sources are created equal, and Amazon does not require citations for answers given. Given that Wikipedia still struggles with vandalism, there’s likely to be more of the same.
The question is whether positives outweigh the potential reliability issues. Aside from filling the gaps, this is likely to build a passionate community around Alexa that didn’t exist previously.