“Amazon’s engineers are tweaking Alexa’s algorithm to help the virtual assistant guess users’ requests, and offer to resolve them, before the demand is even uttered,” reports ZDNet: After being asked, for example, how long a cup of tea should brew for, Alexa will be able to suggest setting a timer for the number of minutes that are recommended. Alexa engineers Anjishnu Kumar and Anand Rathi explained in a blog post that the improvement is the continuation of efforts to make interactions with the virtual assistant as natural as possible. Chatting with Alexa should be as natural as talking to another human being, said the engineers, and enabling the technology to anticipate what’s coming next in conversation is key to enable a smooth flow of dialogue. “Now, we’re taking another step towards natural interaction with a capability that lets Alexa infer customers’ latent goals — goals that are implicit in customer requests but not directly expressed,” wrote Kumar and Rathi…. The engineers used a deep-learning model that accounts for various elements in the dialogue with the customer before deciding whether a suggestion should be triggered or not. The algorithm makes an assessment based on factors ranging from the text of the dialogue to the users’ previous behaviors towards the virtual assistant, including how often they engage with Alexa’s multi-skill suggestions. “We are thrilled about this invention as it aids discovery of Alexa’s skills and provides increased utility to our customers,” said the Amazon engineers. “Our early experiments showed that not all dialogue contexts are well suited to latent-goal discovery,” the engineers point out in their blog post. “When a customer asked for ‘recipes for chicken’, for instance, one of our initial prototypes would incorrectly follow up by asking, ‘Do you want me to play chicken sounds?'”

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