Doorbell Concierge is Alexa with Agency – an Assistant That Can Do Something When You Are Not Present
Amazon’s annual product launch event is really an Alexa-fest focused on physical devices. However, there were several announcements of the artificial intelligence (AI) variety that may turn out to have an equal or even greater long-term impact. When you have concrete devices in front of you like smart glasses, wireless earbuds, smart speakers, smart ovens, and a ring suitable for a spy novel (here is a breakdown of 16 new and updated products), subtle updates to Alexa’s machine learning capabilities are easy to pass over amidst more than 80 announcements.
However, Doorbell Concierge, a new service that will come with the “Ring Video Doorbell Elite early next year,” is very different from previous Alexa features. Rohit Prasad, Amazon vice president and head scientist of Alexa artificial intelligence, told Voicebot that it is one of the first implementations of Alexa Conversations technology that debuted in June 2019. This technology is designed to gather information from people and then utilize its knowledge base and other services to complete a task on their behalf. That is precisely what Doorbell Concierge does by greeting guests to your home through a Ring video doorbell.
Doorbell Concierge Shows an Assistant with Agency
Doorbell Concierge is the introduction of assistant functionality that includes agency. What do we mean by this? Agency means that the assistant has permission to do things on behalf of the user when they are not present. Today, nearly all assistant interactions are built around requests and responses. The user asks for something and the assistant responds. No activity can be executed without the primary user first making a request. Doorbell Concierge is different. It will be able to execute simple conversations with people that approach the home when the owner is not present and cannot connect in real-time through the app.
Doorbell Concierge demonstrates a proactive Alexa.
Offer Simple Instructions and Take Messages
It appears that the core use cases Doorbell Concierge can execute are taking a message or providing instructions for deliveries. A video was shown during the Alexa product launch event in Seattle and I have a live recording of that below. The quality of the video capture is not great given my proximity to the screen, but it is not publicly available so this is the best you can hope for right now. The footage does offer some insight into what you can expect from doorbell concierge. Here are some of the use cases and questions Doorbell Concierge attempts to address in the video:
- Does it need a signature?
- Please leave the package on the side of the house.
- May I know the purpose of your visit?
- I can take a message.
- Please provide your name and the best way to contact you.
- I will send your message.
Alexa’s Google Duplex
The best-known example of a voice assistant with agency is Google Duplex. That solution enables a user to make a request of Google Assistant such as to book a restaurant reservation or hair salon appointment. Google Duplex then goes out, makes a call on behalf of the user, converses in real-time with a human at the restaurant or salon, and then negotiates a time and seating arrangement for the user. It then notifies the user if the task was completed or if additional steps are required. The user offers broad instructions and Google Duplex, in theory, completes the task with some latitude around the details.
Doorbell Concierge is similarly task-focused under the broad instructions of assisting visitors at the door when the user is not available. In some ways, it may be more similar to Google’s CallJoy phone answering service. CallJoy is designed for small businesses and answers incoming calls to help customers when no one can answer the call. It will also send messages to the user (i.e. small business manager) about incoming call requests, send messages to callers so they can complete orders, and presumably reserve tables in restaurants. Doorbell Concierge also handles human interactions just on the doorstep instead of over the phone. You can imagine that answering phone calls could be a future iteration of Alexa services given its growing conversational abilities.