Amazon Alexa Integrates CDC Coronavirus Assessment, Catching Up to Apple Siri

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant can run users through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 questionnaire to assess potential infection and provide recommendations on what to do next. The new feature arrives about a week after Apple added a version of the same feature for Siri and is one of a handful of updates made to Alexa as part of Amazon’s response to the current pandemic.

Alexa’s Health Guide

Asking Alexa what to do if you think you have the coronavirus or similar question will prompt the voice assistant to ask if you want to go through the questionnaire. After running through the usual caveats, Alexa will inquire about your age, any potential exposure, where you have been lately, and signs of illness you may be feeling. The responses are then tabulated and Alexa will suggest your level of risk and what you should do about it in terms of contacting a doctor. Alexa urges self-isolation if it’s not serious enough to get medical attention immediately. Alexa also has a new command that will pull up the public service announcement created by the CDC on smart displays and smart televisions when users ask the voice assistant to “play the CDC video.”

The CDC assessment and other features are limited to the U.S., but Alexa users in Japan can access a related questionnaire based on guidelines from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. While Alexa doesn’t yet offer a coronavirus questionnaire globally, the voice assistant will sing a 20-second song upon request in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, and the UK to ensure users are washing their hands for the minimum necessary time.

“We want to do everything we can to support you during these unprecedented times and our teams are working to make Alexa and Amazon Devices even more helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic,“ Amazon wrote in a blog post about the new features. “Alexa can now answer tens of thousands of questions related to COVID-19 in countries around the world, and we are working to provide accurate and timely information from official government and news sources globally.”

Coronavirus Answers by AI

Amazon and other voice assistant developers are continually updating how their platforms respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Siri and Alexa may have the CDC self-assessments, but Google Assistant offers CDC-approved pandemic tips. Meanwhile, both Google Assistant and Alexa have removed every non-governmental voice app related to the coronavirus from their catalogs to combat misinformation and rumors about the virus.

Governments and medical organizations are rapidly adding AI-powered assessments based on information from the CDC and the World Health Organization. State governments in the U.S. have asked voice app developers like Voicify to design ways to communicate with citizens about COVID-19 through Alexa and Google Assistant, while India and the UK have each created a WhatsApp chatbot to answer questions about the pandemic. Healthcare providers are also turning to AI to help triage potential patients, partnering with firms like Orbita to build interactive voice and text chatbots, integrating Hyro’s free coronavirus-focused version of its virtual assistant, or adapting Microsoft’s template for the same purpose.


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