Alexa’s New ‘Tell Me When’ Feature Gives Proactive Reminders of Events
Alexa can now set reminders for events even if you don’t know when they will happen. The new “Tell me when” feature lets the voice assistant use context to watch for when something happens and remind the user about it, whether it’s a television show or an incoming email.
Answering questions and setting reminders are perennially popular ways to use voice assistants. ‘Tell me when’ does a kind of combination of both. When you ask Alexa to ‘tell me when’ something will happen, the voice assistant will both set an alert and answer the question if it can. For instance, if you ask when a sports game or TV show is, Alexa will tell you what time and day, as well as set a reminder to alert you about it before the game begins. The feature also extends to events the voice assistant can’t guess ahead of time. If you ask Alexa to tell you when a certain contact sends an email to an account connected to Alexa, then the voice assistant will alert you about that event. It’s more specific than an alarm for every incoming email and doesn’t require manual checking of the inbox all the time.
“One of the many benefits of voice is that it makes it easy for customers to add tasks to their to-do lists, call a friend or relative, or set reminders for important things they don’t want to forget,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Over time, customers have come to love and rely on this functionality – in fact, Alexa delivered hundreds of millions of reminders in 2020. We’re now building on this by announcing a new set of dynamic, event-based reminders that enable Alexa to proactively notify customers when things they care about happen.”
Though it’s not an earthshaking new feature on its face, ‘Tell me when’ is a very good example of how Alexa is becoming more proactive and attempting to anticipate user needs as much as possible. It grows directly from the upgrades to the Alexa AI that Amazon introduced this past September. The Teachable AI feature brought out in December lets the user directly instruct Alexa about their preferences, for instance, a context that may be useful for the new reminders. Alexa’s latent goal inference is built on the same principle of extrapolating more of what a customer wants. The latent goal inference feature might suggest a timer when asked how long a certain dish takes to cook, for instance. Amazon has even broadened to third-party devices with the option for Alexa Hunches to proactively operate smart home devices without needing to ask.
The central conceit of all these features is trust. Amazon wants people to trust Alexa. In a bit of dramatic irony, the update to make reminders proactive arrives with new and more comprehensive ways to delete data from Alexa. Users can vocally ask Alexa to delete everything they’ve said and all voice recordings will be deleted. Users can also set Alexa’s smart home history to automatically delete after either three months or a year and a half.