Amazon Echo may soon know when you're sad or irritated

Amazon reportedly wants to give Alexa some new features including a hint of emotional intelligence and the ability to hold a conversation.

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo

Credit: Michael Brown

Amazon reportedly has a plan to keep the Amazon Echo a step ahead of Google Home and a rumored Siri-based device from Apple. The online retailer is apparently hoping to add a few new abilities to Alexa, the Echo’s built-in personal digital assistant. Chief among them is the ability to detect emotion in a user’s voice, according to MIT Technology Review.

Equipped with emotional detection, a personal digital assistant should be better able to understand what you want. If Alexa detects you’re getting frustrated during an interaction it could try a different strategy, for example. Or perhaps if Alexa detected satisfaction or happiness after an interaction it could remember that and offer similar responses in the future.

MIT says Amazon is also working on a few other tweaks, such as the ability to remember what a user has already said and use that information as the conversation continues.

Google Now already does this. You can, for example, ask an Android phone, “Who is the President of the United States?” and then follow-up with questions like, “how old is he?” or “where was his wife born?”

Finally, Amazon also wants to add “probability techniques” to questions to better understand common speech. For example, when someone who lives in Sacramento asks, “when is the next Kings game?” they are looking for an entirely different answer than a person who asks the same question in Los Angeles.

The impact on you at home: The Amazon Echo was a surprise when it arrived in late 2014, but it's put Amazon in a good position for the expected “revolution” from intelligent assistants that help us do everything from sending email to booking tickets via a messaging app. The purported new additions to Alexa should help it remain a popular choice as a smart home device and keep it competitive with Google Now, Siri, and Cortana.

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