New Alexa Conversation Mode Skips Wake Word Repetition
Amazon introduced a new Conversation Mode for Alexa to make interactions with the voice assistant feel more natural. Amazon Echo 10 smart display owners won’t need to repeat Alexa’s wake word to converse with the voice assistant anymore, and Alexa will pause when interrupted and only respond when addressed.
Reading the Room
The more natural turn-taking and responses will activate when an Echo 10 owner tells the smart display, “Alexa, join the conversation.” A solid blue border around the screen with a blue bar at the bottom indicates Conversation Mode has been enabled. Once it’s on, anyone in view of the device’s camera looking at the screen can speak with Alexa without repeating its name. The users can end Conversation Mode and set Alexa back to its default settings by telling it to “leave the conversation” or manually turning off the microphone or camera. Ceasing to talk to the voice assistant for a short time will also reset Alexa automatically.
“Conversation Mode also allows for more free-flowing interactions,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Just like we may talk over a friend or speak at the same time when considering what to order for dinner or what to do over the weekend, when Conversation Mode is enabled you can interact with Alexa at your own pace, even when multiple people are interacting with Alexa. Alexa will respond when addressed and pause if interrupted.”
As a privacy measure, only statements to Alexa are supposed to be added to its memory and relayed to the cloud, the same as if only one person were in the room talking to it. While Conversation Mode turns on the video camera, Alexa won’t send any images or video recordings to the cloud, according to Amazon.
Conversation Mode is part of the ongoing competition among voice assistants to make interactions more comfortable. Google Assistant has been ahead of Amazon in this particular aspect. Google’s Continued Conversation option first arrived in 2018 for Android and smart speakers before coming to smart displays a year later. Continued Conversation allows users to add additional commands to their Google Assistant orders without having to say the wake word after each individual request. Google has moved ahead with its new Quick Phrases feature, which enables Google Assistant without a wake word at all, starting with the new Google Pixel 6 smartphone line.
Amazon first brought up the idea of Conversation Mode last year but has been accelerating Alexa’s learning abilities on a different path with similar goals before now. Conversation Mode ties neatly into the Teachable AI feature that prompts Alexa to ask follow-up questions if it doesn’t understand a command, as well as the latent goal inference feature that Alexa uses to extrapolate when a request or goal is hinted at obliquely.
“Natural interaction with another person might be commonplace for us, but it can be hard for AI,” Amazon wrote. “Our scientists and engineers had to devise various ways for Alexa to understand when people were speaking to the device and not to each other, and to determine when and how to respond. When Conversation Mode is enabled, Alexa is able to use visual and acoustic cues to know when to respond to requests.”