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Amazon Struggles with Alexa AI Overhaul

Amazon's ambitious goals for the new Alexa have been hampered by a lack of adequate data and access to the latest Nvidia GPUs.

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's project to develop a significantly smarter Alexa, integrating advanced generative AI, is encountering major obstacles. The ambitious endeavor, aimed at making Alexa more conversational and contextually intuitive, has faced substantial setbacks, as noted in a report from Fortune.

Technological and Management Issues

Despite being a leading voice assistant, Alexa's evolution towards a more sophisticated AI model remains stunted. Multiple technological and managerial challenges have marred the integration of technology into Alexa. Ensuring Alexa can reliably carry out tasks, such as executing API calls for third-party smart devices and music services, has proven problematic.

Organizational Fragmentation and Staff Exodus

Interviews with over a dozen former Amazon employees show that many departures stemmed from skepticism about Alexa's future. These employees brought up issues with Amazon's fragmented organizational structure, which splintered the Alexa team into numerous independent groups.

This division has led to inefficiencies and frustration, further hampering development efforts. Mihail Eric, who previously worked as a research scientist at Amazon, specifically criticized the company's scattered organizational framework, indicating that it significantly slowed progress.
 

Amazon's Stance and Development Updates

Amazon has rebutted claims made by former staff, stating that their information was outdated and didn't represent the current state of Alexa's advancements. Kristy Schmidt, a spokesperson from Amazon, emphasized the company's ongoing dedication to evolving Alexa into “the world's best personal assistant“, highlighting into various Alexa functions. Schmidt noted that significant efforts are underway to roll out these improvements across the vast array of Alexa-enabled devices worldwide.

Nonetheless, the enhanced AI version of Alexa remains in a limited preview phase, casting doubts on whether it will achieve the functionality demonstrated the previous year. Following the departure of Dave Limp, Panos Panay, former head of devices and services at , has taken charge, but he has been in the role for only a short period. With only a year left before fall 2024, it is uncertain if Amazon can deliver on its commitments and keep up with competitors like and OpenAI.

Showcases and Promises

During an event in September 2023 at their second headquarters near Washington DC, Amazon demonstrated the new generative AI-enabled Alexa. David Limp, who was then leading devices and services, revealed the new features to an audience of reporters and employees. The demonstration included a new trigger phrase, “Alexa, let's chat“, sparking a more natural conversation. Limp also showcased how Alexa could answer questions about his sports preferences and send messages.

Rohit Prasad, Amazon's Senior Vice President and head of Alexa, highlighted the new capabilities of Alexa, referring to it as a “super agent“, Despite the promising showcase, the updated Alexa is not widely available yet, and concerns about potential subscription fees have surfaced.

Shifting Priorities and Privacy Issues

Former employees noted a shift in Amazon's focus towards developing AI for Amazon Web Services (AWS) instead of prioritizing Alexa's generative AI. Additionally, fears over privacy and internal politics have allegedly complicated the incorporation of Anthropic's Claude model into the latest Alexa.

Although the September 2023 demo was impressive, the new Alexa was not fully ready for a broader release. Critics describe the Alexa large language model (LLM) as lagging behind competitors, with Amazon struggling to gather enough data and lacking access to specialized computational resources. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella even called it “dumb as a rock.

Data and Infrastructure Limitations

Ex-employees of Amazon have mentioned that the company was slow to react to the generative AI trend, especially following the launch of ChatGPT. The delayed response forced the Alexa team to create synthetic datasets for training the Alexa LLM, as there was a shortage of real-world data. Integrations with third-party devices have also been a significant hurdle.

Amazon's vision for the new Alexa has been impeded by a lack of sizable data and insufficient access to high-end Nvidia GPUs. Compared to competitors like Meta, the Alexa LLM has been trained on a relatively smaller dataset. Bureaucratic inefficiencies and infrastructure problems have further complicated the development process, leading to internal doubts about the overall design of the AI-based Alexa.

SourceFortune
Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus is the founder of WinBuzzer and has been playing with Windows and technology for more than 25 years. He is holding a Master´s degree in International Economics and previously worked as Lead Windows Expert for Softonic.com.