Alexa Brings Thousands of Coronavirus Answers to India

Amazon extended coronavirus-centric features for the Alexa voice assistant to India this week. Echo smart speakers and other Alexa-powered devices can now answer many of the basic questions about the virus when directly asked.

Alexa Responds

Amazon started adding new features to Alexa related to the pandemic back in March. In the U.S., Alexa offers a questionnaire composed by the CDC about potential symptoms to help people self-assess their risk, with a similar list of questions for Alexa users in Japan produced by the Japanese health ministry. Alexa also sings a 20-second song about washing your hands in a handful of countries when asked. Bringing the Alexa features to India is part of a more extensive update to Alexa that Amazon made recently.  Alexa now has the answers to thousands of new questions about the coronavirus, according to the updated Amazon blog post, available in both India and the U.S.

Amazon’s efforts in India mirror what Apple is doing with Siri. The coronavirus-related features Apple put in place in the U.S. are also accessible in India. Siri will answer questions about how to check for COVID-19 infection and share localized news about the subject upon request in India. If someone with a Siri-powered device asks, “Hey Siri. I think I have COVID-19,” Siri will carry out a questionnaire to check if they have any of the symptoms. Those who report they have symptoms are then informed that they should keep a close watch on their health, call a medical provider, and avoid interacting with other people lest the infection spread.

AI Answers

The voice assistant developers are continuing to build these pandemic-related features directly into their platforms partly because there are few other options available to Alexa or other voice assistant-powered device owners. 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. The threat of bad information is severe when it comes to communicable diseases, which has also led governments to create their own interactive AI solutions to citizens looking for answers. India, as well as the UK and Estonia, among others, have all built chatbots to answer questions about the pandemic using official sources.

India has also been a where innovations in voice tech related to the pandemic have led to volunteers designing a voice-searchable digital dashboard of outbreaks in the country, while an India voice tech startup has created an app to hunt for telltale biomarkers in how people speak to determine if someone has been infected.


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