Amazon confirmed it’s rolling out a new feature called “Answer Update” to Alexa device users over the next week, which will notify users when Alexa learns the answer to a question the assistant didn’t know when first asked. The idea is to allow people to better take advantage of Alexa’s quickly improving Knowledge Graph – its informational database containing general knowledge facts and figures that Alexa uses to answer users’ questions.
The feature was first spotted by Voicebot, which said they were prompted to enable the feature after listening to some information a news item. Alexa then asked if the user wanted to enable “Answer Updates.”
When asked what this was, Alexa replied that she could notify the user later if she learned the answer to a question.
Typically, Alexa would have simply declined to answer the question when she didn’t know an answer, saying something like “I don’t know that, but I’m always learning,” “I can’t find the answer to the question I heard,” or “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question,” the report noted.
Amazon tells us that customers will be able to opt into the new experience, when offered, and can later choose to opt out by saying “Alexa, turn off Answer Update.”
“The Alexa service is getting smarter every day, and Answer Updates is just another way we’re continuing to expand Alexa’s Knowledge Graph,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
They also clarified the prompt would be triggered when you ask Alexa a factual question she didn’t yet know the answer to, not after listening to a news item or other information about a news item.
We were able to turn on Answer Update on our own Alexa device by saying “Alexa, turn on Answer Update.”
The assistant then responded by saying:
“Okay, if you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, but I find out later I’ll notify you.”
The feature is meant to offer a challenge to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is far more developed, and gives Google Home a competitive advantage. Though Alexa has enjoyed an early lead in smart speaker market share, Google has been catching up, with some firms estimating its portion of the speaker market will grow both in the U.S. and abroad in the months ahead. Alexa needs to get better at basic Q&A and quickly.
For example, in a study reported by AdWeek last year, Google Home was found to be 6 times more likely to answer a user’s question than Amazon Alexa. The study involved asking both devices some 3,000 questions.
Answer Updates is not necessarily a fix for that problem, but it could be used as a way to reach frustrated users who expect their “smart” assistant to be a bit…well…smarter.