Amazon Alexa Beyond Echomania: Jumping The Fences Of The Current Constraints


A few days ago Amazon announced Alexa platform's support for notifications. That is indeed a positive step forward and adds up to the proactiveness of Alexa. The latter property was interestingly one of the main points emphasized by a number of private comments to my last post published [here] and [here].
According to my readers, the Alexa virtual assistant of the fictional scenarios I have referred to was rather a version way too advanced compared to the actual Amazon Alexa. 
Notifications are indeed a positive step forward and indicate more and better proactiveness of Alexa
That's absolutely true. My imaginary interactions (designed for the specific article's purposes) were obviously based on an Alexa platform concept pretty far from what we have today. My fictional Alexa was obviously geared more towards an AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) concept while today's Alexa is still based on a model just a few, although meaningful, steps passed a script-based IVR (Interactive Voice Response) paradigm with technological roots in the 1970s
No doubt that the current Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is an impressive new capability of the ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) but it does not add much to Alexa's intelligence as a virtual agent nor does it Alexa's excellent human-like high-definition voice. 
The Natural Language Understanding is an impressive new capability but it does not add much to Alexa's Intelligence as a virtual agent.
Current Alexa is essentially a centrally-managed collection of ad-hoc and isolated skills, not too far from an IVR model with branching logic format. The cross-domain real-time capabilities, for instance, are very limited and the context awareness is extremely basic, if not totally inexistent. The new notification feature is an improvement but in absence of other crucial capabilities, the whole platform remains inherently hostage of a "parallel silos" logic while the centrally managed approach becomes a choke point instead of acting as an expected inter-skills facilitator/communicator: e.g. Alexa knows about skills A, B, and C while skill A doesn't have a clue about skill B and C, etc. Here are a few sample scenarios to better clarify my point:
User: Alexa, ask my InstaBanker about my current balance.
Alexa: Sure, the current balance on your account is $275.
User: Alexa, ask PG&E how much is my due for this month energy bill?
Alexa: You got it! PG&E confirms it's $365.
User: Alexa, is there enough money in my account to pay the bill?
Alexa: Sorry, I don't understand your question. 
[----Another common example-----]
User: Alexa, play classical music from Prime.
Alexa: Here is a station for classical music: Classical Focus.
[-------Music starts streaming------]
User: Alexa, news briefing, please.
Alexa: Here is your news briefing.
[---------News starts streaming------]
User: Alexa, stop the briefing. Please resume music.
Alexa: I can change playback music only when music is playing.

Towards Future Alexa

The fictional Alexa of my last post is instead a smart real-time spawned agent capable of crawling an ever expanding distributed and cross-domain knowledge-sphere while delivering edge service to end-users. A "knowledge-sphere" could be imagined as a mix of a Wolfram|Alpha-type Computational Knowledge Engine and a standardized network of knowledge nodes (that we can keep calling 'skills') that can be independently generated by 3rd parties and made available via a virtual marketplace based on some kind of implicit contracting (e.g. through Amazon Prime) or on-demand service purchase (e.g. through App Store). All that means an Alexa that can navigate and use, on an as-needed-basis, both an ever growing repository of semantically structured Linked Data and an instantly generated output by doing computations from an internal knowledge-base.
My fictional Alexa is also capable of taking advantage of on-device processing to allow, for instance, for privacy-by-design with an approach similar to what is currently offered by the French company
Now, let's get off the imagination train and smell the morning coffee: Yes, we are still very far from this fictional scenario. Yet having a strategic perspective helps a lot to think (and un-think) things while we try to push the today's Alexa platform beyond and above itself. In the meantime, let's imagine Alexa as the mythological Phoenix and whisper with William Shakespeare:
“Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new-create another heir
As great in admiration as herself.”


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