New Amazon Alexa unveiled with generative AI chat — what you need to know

Amazon event 2023
(Image credit: Amazon)

The Amazon Event today is showing off a ton of new products and updates. But none may be bigger than the new AI updates coming to Amazon's Alexa smart assistant.

At its big products and services showcase event, Amazon executive Dave Limp showed off a new version of Alexa that is designed to be significantly more conversational and expressive than the current, more robotic version of Alexa. Basically, think of it as a ChatGPT-infused Alexa that gets a serious upgrade from generative AI.

The biggest upgrade? You no longer need to say "Alexa" over and over again. Thanks to the new large language model (LLM) that Amazon has injected into Alexa, it is able to handle a more natural conversation. It can also recognize the difference between taking a pause and actually being done with the conversation, a big upgrade for some of us who need a moment to flesh out what we want to say.

The feature appears to still be in testing, so unfortunately, we don't have a firm ETA on when to expect this new version of Alexa. But Amazon says that "Soon, customers in the U.S. will get access to these new capabilities through a free preview on Echo devices they already own."

Amazon focused on five foundational capabilities for Alexa

In its presentation of the new version of Alexa, it was clear that Amazon wanted to make a more conversational version of Alexa. And to do that, the solution was an LLM optimized for voice interactions. 

In the construction of that LLM, Amazon focused on five "foundational capabilities." This included being conversational so that Alexa would feel more natural when speaking and respond with less latency. 

It also wanted Alexa to be personalized, so that it converses with you actually knowing something about you. In a live demo, Limp asked Alexa about his "favorite football team" rather than having to name the football team, Alexa already knew. This is a real-world application, which was another one of Amazon's foundational principles for the new LLM powering Alexa.

“Our latest model has been specifically optimized for voice and the things we know our customers love—like having access to real-time information, efficiently controlling their smart home, and getting the most out of their home entertainment.”

Amazon

To power these real-world experiences, Alexa needs to interact with APIs to access real-time information and execute tasks. And this should become a lot easier starting in 2024. According to Amazon, "Starting next year, developers can integrate their content and APIs with our LLM, to deliver richer and more engaging experiences using a simple no-code solution."

Finally, Amazon says it wants to ensure that its ChatGPT-like Alexa has a personality and can be trusted. The first part shouldn't be too difficult — generative AI chatbots can sometimes have too much of a personality. However, privacy is a real concern given that the vast amounts of data used by LLMs often lead to privacy issues. Amazon didn't give many details on how it will handle your data securely, but it did make a special effort to let you know it's on its mind.

Alexa with generative AI: Biggest takeaways

Amazon Event

(Image credit: Future)

This new version of Alexa appeared underwhelming at first, but then after seeing it compared to the current version of Alexa, it finally clicked for me. The differences are so subtle on its face that you feel like nothing has changed, but after watching Alexa with generative AI interact for a few minutes, you realize everything has changed.

Amazon clearly wants to infuse generative AI into a wide range of products and experiences. For Alexa specifically, Amazon announced games, music creation tools, hands-free driving assistants and more.

But it's not just Alexa getting an AI upgrade. In addition to a new Fire Stick 4K and 4K Max, the Fire TV smart TV platform also got some upgrades announced today. Users can now create AI-generated art to display in Ambient Experience — a feature similar to Samsung's The Frame. And, of course, it's getting the more conversational version of Alexa powered by generative AI. Don't expect it to be the last products we see get a more conversational Alexa.

Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.


Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.