Ever find yourself wanting Alexa to do something, but not sure what skill you need? There's now an app for that.
Amazon has introduced a new feature (called the CanFulfillIntentRequest interface) that developers can use to directly tell Amazon the tasks their skills are suited to accomplish. This means that if you ask Alexa to "Find me a Father's Day gift" or "Help me get pumped," Alexa will recommend a number of skills to you that are best able to fulfill your needs. For example, if you ask Alexa to find you the best bakery in New York, Alexa will search various bakery skills to invoke those with a database of New York bakeries (rather than databases of bakeries in San Francisco or elsewhere).
Alexa could already do this in limited quantities. Since last December, if you asked Alexa for "a ride," she would ask you to try Uber, then Lyft. Now, as developers begin to take advantage of CanFulfillIntentRequest, Alexa will be able to recommend, and invoke, a much wider selection of third-party skills. So if Uber and Lyft aren't your scene, Alexa may recommend that you try more ride-sharing services soon.
More than 40,000 Alexa skills are currently available, but for a good portion of them, user engagement is low. As of March, nearly 60 percent of those skills had no user ratings, and 17 percent had only one review.
With this new feature, users (well, those who are willing to sit through a list of recommendations) will be exposed to a wider range of Alexa skills. In particular, they may be able to find more niche apps that fit their specific needs.
CanFulfillIntentRequest is just one of many new skills that have made Alexa scary smart in the past few months. At the World Wide Web Conference in April, head of Alexa Brain group Ruhi Sarikaya announced that Alexa was gaining the ability to remember details you've talked about in the past. For example, you could have Alexa remind you to call your Mom on her birthday -- not only would it remember to remind you to call, but she'll now remember when your Mom's birthday is for future reference. It's also gotten much better at remembering details of multi-step conversations.
In tandem, these new features have exciting potential. In the future, for example, it's possible Amazon's voice assistant could recommend skills similar to those you've used in the past, or based on questions you've asked earlier in your conversation. One thing's for sure: It's getting smarter.