Amazon could charge £7.99 to use improved Alexa capable of 'near-human-like conversations'

an amazon echo is pictured on a wooden cabinet with picture frames and flowers to the side

Amazon Echo owners could be charged a monthly fee to access the next major upgrade for voice assistant, Alexa, which will seemingly tap into the next generation of AI models

AMAZON PRESS OFFICE
Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown


Published: 22/06/2024

- 22:30

A more rudimentary version of Alexa would be available for free

  • August deadline to finish work on upgraded Alexa, sources claim
  • Improved voice assistant will offer "near-human-like conversations"
  • But Amazon will charge a monthly fee between $5-10 (£3.99-£7.99)
  • Those who want to use Alexa for free will lose out on AI features

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Amazon is looking to charge a monthly subscription fee between $5-$10 (roughly £3.99-£7.99) for a next-generation Alexa voice assistant that competes directly with OpenAI's latest ChatGPT model, the upgraded Siri powered by Apple Intelligence, and Google Gemini, sources speaking to Reuters have revealed.


Alexa — one of the most popular voice-activated assistants — is currently available at no cost to anyone who owns an Amazon Echo smart speaker, smart display, Fire TV set-top box, or downloads the Alexa app. While Alexa was instrumental in the success of AI voice assistants, it has fallen behind rivals in recent years.

Amazon is planning a major revamp of its decade-old Alexa service to incorporate conversational generative AI. It will offer two tiers of its Alexa service, with the most advanced carrying a monthly fee of around $5-10, according to people with knowledge of Amazon's secretive plans. Amazon is pushing engineers to complete work before an August deadline, three anonymous people from inside the US firm told Reuters.

Amazon usually unveils new iterations of its Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle hardware in September.

With an embedded AI, Amazon expects Alexa customers will ask it for shopping advice like which gloves and hat to purchase for a mountain climbing trip, the people said, similar to a text-based service on its website known as Rufus that Amazon rolled out earlier this year.

Amazon already offered a sneak peek of how large language models will enhance Alexa during its annual hardware event, held at its corporate headquarters in Arlington, Virginia in September last year.

In a live demo on-stage, Amazon devices boss Dave Limp revealed how the latest iteration of the assistant would be more expressive in its responses – for example sounding happier when returning a positive score result for your favourite sports team.

Not only that, but by saying “Let’s Chat” to Alexa, users can speak with the virtual helper without the use of the wake phrase “Alexa” every time, making each exchange feel more conversational and natural.

You’ll even be able to pick up a conversation after a short break and Alexa will still remember all of the context from the previous exchanges.

Dave Limp promised that Alexa can understand inferences and more vague prompts in a way that he described will be “like talking to a friend”. For example, the new Alexa can respond to the prompt “I’m cold” by turning on the heating in a connected home.

"You can now have a near-human-like conversations with Alexa," promised Dave Limp at the time. The executive has since left Amazon.

Amazon is working to replace what it refers to internally as “Classic Alexa,” the current free version, with an AI-powered one and yet another tier that uses more powerful AI software for more complicated queries and prompts that people would have to pay at least $5 per month to access, sources within the company claim.

The final subscription has yet to be decided within Amazon, but with a reported $4 billion investment in AI research company Anthropic to train Alexa on large language models, the Seattle-based retailer has a long way to go before it breaks even. Unfortunately, there's no discount for those who subscribe to the £95 a year Amazon Prime membership, sources claim.

Similar to what we've seen from ChatGPT and Gemini, a paid-for Alexa could perform more intricate tasks, like writing a brief email, sending it and ordering dinner for delivery from Uber Eats from a single prompt. It would offer more personalisation by learning your routine and preferences.

amazon alexa speaker with example prompts on cards around it

Alexa is already capable of a number of clever features, like controlling smart home gadgets, scheduling calendar appointments and alarms, answering trivia questions, and making calls

REUTERS

This could dramatically enhance Alexa's usefulness around the home. For example, the AI would learn that it's always asked to power-on a television for a favourite weekly show at the same time, or start a fresh coffee pot after the morning alarm goes off — allowing it to automate all of these tasks.

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This is already possible with Alexa-compatible smart home devices using the Routines feature within the Alexa app on iPhone and Android, but everything needs to be programmed manually by the Amazon Echo owner.

When approached about the enhanced Alexa by Reuters, a spokesperson for Amazon said: "We have already integrated generative AI into different components of Alexa, and are working hard on implementation at scale—in the over half a billion ambient, Alexa-enabled devices already in homes around the world—to enable even more proactive, personal, and trusted assistance for our customers."

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