Amazon Makes Alexa Conversations Feature Generally Available
Amazon has released the Alexa Conversations feature of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to the general public. First launched as a beta last year, Alexa Conversations is aimed at simplifying the process of building voice apps and making them more user-friendly.
Conversing With Alexa
Alexa Conversations is a feature built around cross-skill goal completion, eliminating the need for developers to figure out everything a user might say while interacting with the skill. All they need to do is lay out the goals and potentially important details. Alexa Conversations then conjures up the model to anticipate and respond to any requests or questions by the user and leveraging them toward the designer’s goal. The designers don’t have to write as much code or spend nearly as long gaming out how their voice app should respond. Alexa Conversations was first announced back in 2019 before the beta test began in 2020. The general release incorporated some of the lessons from those who have been experimenting with the feature over the last year, ensuring it addresses more developer needs.
“Beta participants found Alexa Conversations faster than traditional techniques (once they understood the concepts) for building complex, multi-turn interactions such as helping customers schedule activities or browse a digital catalog,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Offloading state management and contextual memory work to Alexa freed them to integrate external APIs or build rich soundscapes for engaging and immersive experiences. Constructive beta feedback produced improved error messages, added dialog cloning, drove new command line interface support, enhanced authoring workflows, and updated the design guide to help you fine-tune experiences to feel more natural. These new experiences are now available on Alexa-enabled devices and in the Alexa Skills Store.”
Amazon has already started integrating Conversations into its own products. Alexa’s reading recommendation service introduced in the fall uses it to come up with ideas when asked about what to read next, and the Alexa Greetings feature for Ring doorbells relies on the feature to interact with people and direct them to leave messages or where to drop off packages.
One third-party skill using Alexa Conversations is Art Museum, which won the contest Amazon ran around skills using the feature late last year. Art Museum connects users to pieces curated from the Art Institute of Chicago. Alexa becomes a guide to the chosen art, explaining how it was created and answering questions about the piece asked by users. The idea is to make a miniature art museum within each user’s home. Developers John Gillilan and Katy Boungard beat out hundreds of entries to win $20,000, some of which they donated to Chicago charities. Each of the ten finalists picked up $5,000 just for making it that far as well.
“We created Art Museum, a digital museum experience allowing you to browse the Art Institute of Chicago’s digital collection with Alexa. “It truly is a new paradigm for skill building, since building dialog management, context carryover and state management by hand with intents and session attributes is possible but it would have been really hard and flimsy,” Gillilan said. “Outsourcing the state management piece took a huge burden off the development process, and integrating with the Art Institute’s public API opened up an entirely new kind of use case.”