More chores for Amazon's Alexa, and a new (celebrity) voice

Seattle (AFP) –


Amazon unveiled a lineup of new Alexa-powered products on Wednesday extending from homes and cars to wearable devices, and a celebrity voice option for the popular digital assistant.

Alexa has been tweaked using machine learning to speak more like a person -- and will offer celebrity voices, with the first being star actor Samuel L. Jackson.

In a product launch in Seattle, Washington, Alexa was the star as Amazon sought to widen the reach of its digital assistant powered by artificial intelligence amid a battle with rivals from Google, Apple, Microsoft and others.

The Amazon voice assistant will be infused in earbuds and even prototype eyeglass frames on display at the media event along with an enhanced array of Echo smart speakers.

The company also pledged to make user privacy a priority, responding to fears about how voice data is collected and used by technology companies.

"Privacy is foundational to everything we do around Alexa," Amazon senior vice president of devices and services Dave Limp said before diving into new devices launching for the year-end holiday shopping season.

Later this year, Amazon will add a "Home Mode" feature to its Ring smart cameras that will stop the devices from recording any video or audio until directed otherwise.

Amazon also added the ability to ask the voice-commanded digital assistant why it did something, or to reveal what it has heard. Alexa also got a feature that has it automatically delete voice recordings at specific intervals.

"This is a good step forward, but we will continue to listen to customers and invest in privacy," Limp said.

- New languages -

Amazon began rolling out bilingual capabilities for Alexa, enabling it to perform in Spanish as well as English in the US; French along with English in Canada, and Hindi along with English in india, according to Limp.

The celebrity voice option from Amazon follows a similar move by Google, which gave users the option of hearing celebrity singer John Legend on the Google Assistant last year.

Along with beefing up the Echo and Ring lines, Amazon introduced earbuds it touted as providing the first wearable, hands-free Alexa experience on the go.

Echo Buds priced at $130 synch wirelessly to smartphones, and can work with Google or Apple smart assistant software already on handsets, according to Limp.

"If you thought Amazon was embedding Alexa in your life before, that is nothing compared to what they have planned," Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart said of the announcements.

"In your home; in your ears, on your face, or literally at your fingertips."