Amazon Alexa will now turn to select customers to get answers to questions the digital assistant doesn’t know.
The service, called Alexa Answers, began on December 6, with answers that are crowdsourced from a community.
Through the service, Amazon will invite certain customers to participate based on their history of writing reviews and using Alexa. Topics are varied and range from science to music.
“Our vision has always been that Alexa will be able to answer all questions in all forms, from anywhere in the world,” writes Bill Barton, vice president of Alexa Information at Amazon. “… In the last year we added more than one billion data points to Alexa’s knowledge, federating a large number of sources that inform our knowledge graph.”
Think of the feature similar to Amazon.com product pages, where reviews provide the customer personal insight into the goods. The goal is to help people make better decisions. Humans will help in instances where artificial intelligence falls short.
Once on the website, customers can browse through topic categories, select a question that appeals to them, type their response, and click "submit." After a customer submits the answer, up to about 300 characters, Alexa customers may get the answer.
When the next customer asks Alexa the same question answered by a community member, the virtual assistant will have access to that answer and can choose to respond by attributing the response to “an Amazon customer.”
Example of questions range from “where is the most snowfall” to “how long does it take for the water in an ice cube tray to freeze.”
Amazon will screen questions and answers for potentially offensive questions and profane or offensive words and topics.
Amazon also will tell Alexa users when they receive an answer from the crowdsourced community, which they can give an up or down vote. Too many down votes will result in the answer being deleted.
At one point Bing worked with Amazon to surface information from Alexa voice queries the virtual assistant could not answer. It's unclear whether that is still the case.
Similarly, Google announced earlier in December the expansion of support for results within Question & Answer pages on the web. The biggest difference is that Google’s technology supports companies on their own site and then allows Google to index the pages in search results.
“People come to Google seeking information about all kinds of questions,” wrote Kayla Hanson, software engineer at Google, explaining that Q&A destinations are frequently the most common places to look.
In order to help people better identify the search results that may provide the best information about their question, Google developed a “rich result type” for question-and-answer sites.
Search results for eligible Q&A pages display a preview of the top answers. This new presentation helps site owners reach the right users for their content and helps users get the relevant information about their questions faster.