In Race to Dominate Voice-Powered Tech, Amazon Rolls Out Chatbot Tools

A day when people can control almost any piece of software with their voice is what Amazon.com Inc’s chief technology officer is working toward.

CTO Werner Vogels said in an interview that to enable developers so they can build chat features into their own apps, the company on Wednesday rolled out the technology powering Alexa, its voice assistant that competes with Apple Inc’s Siri. The service, Amazon Lex, was in a preview phase since late 2016.

After losing out in mobile to Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google, this move underscores how Amazon is racing to be the top player in voice-controlled computing.

Conversational assistants or “chatbots” would be made more helpful than the clunky tools they’ve been in the past by Amazon’s headway in processing how humans write and speak, Vogels said.

“There’s massive acceleration happening here,” he said before speaking at Amazon’s cloud-computing summit in San Francisco. “The cool thing about having this running as a service in the cloud instead of in your own data center or on your own desktop is that we can make Lex better continuously by the millions of customers that are using it.”

A key to artificial intelligence, which lets voice assistants decode speech, is the processing vast quantities of data. In order to understand more queries, Amazon will take the text and recordings people send to apps to train Lex – as well as Alexa.

That could help Amazon catch up in data collection. The company has sold an estimated 10 million or more of products such as Echo speakers that are as popular as Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices. hundreds of millions of iPhones and other devices with Siri has been sold by Apple.

While they talk to assistants on their phones in fewer scenarios like when driving a car, people use Alexa for many tasks, from helping them cook to playing music, Vogels said.

Amazon will charge developers based on how many text or voice requests Lex processes as with other cloud-based services.

Still, many are already attracted to building chatbots as the biggest payoff may come from e-commerce. While Facebook Inc this week said its virtual assistant, called M, can help users order food from delivery.com, Amazon has begun offering Alexa-only shopping deals to encourage purchases by voice.

“Voice is a big part of the computer interface of the future,” said Gene Munster, a veteran equity analyst and now head of research at Loup Ventures. “Whoever owns voice will be the gateway of commerce.”

Meanwhile, ending rumors about its plans and increasing the pressure on the domestic retail sector to catch up with the digital economy, Amazon.com Inc on Thursday said it will open its online shopfront service in Australia.

In the world’s 12th-largest economy, where 80 percent of the population live in cities and more than 90 percent have home internet, the announcement fires the starting gun on a new era of competition between bricks-and-mortar and online retail.

“The pie’s not really growing, so the natural conclusion is that the players in that market will have their market share reduced,” said Danial Moradi, an equity strategist at Lonsec Research.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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