Interaction with Alexa has steadily improved since the launch of Amazon’s voice assistant in 2014. But, while it is possible to ask Alexa to do multiple things at once, like adding multiple items to your shopping list in one word, ask the assistant to do something. always involves saying their name, or wake-up call, first.
Amazon has recognized how annoying it can get if you have to involve Alexa in a conversation. For example, you and another member of your household want to use Alexa to choose a recipe or find a local restaurant. Normally, you would each need to say “Alexa” or whatever wake-up word you chose, whenever you wanted to ask your Amazon smart speaker or smart screen a question, such as the distance to a restaurant or its hours. ‘opening.
That is changing with a new feature called Conversation Mode, which was announced by Amazon in September 2020, and is now available on the third-generation Echo Show 10 smart display, but only in the US for now.
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Why just one Echo device?
It’s rare for Amazon to limit new Alexa features to a single Echo device, but that’s the case here because Conversation Mode uses the Echo Show 10’s camera and screen, which rotate as you move around. in the room, as well as its microphone. The camera does not store footage or upload it to the cloud, but is used to determine when someone is speaking directly to Alexa.
By determining this, the assistant knows when to speak to him, and therefore when to listen and find an answer. When the camera is not watched, Alexa stays out of the conversation.
The idea here is that Alexa can be invited to join a conversation between two or more users. Going back to the previous example, these people could discuss where to go for dinner.
They could continue to summon Alexa with the wake word whenever they want to ask a question about a local restaurant. Or, with talk mode enabled, they can chat with each other, then bring Alexa into the chat just by looking at the Echo Show 10’s camera as they speak.
How to use Alexa’s talk mode
Conversation mode is not enabled by default. Instead, owners of Echo Show 10 should say, “Alexa, join the conversation,” and after that, the assistant will respond to anyone in the room who is looking at the camera when they speak. Alexa will then respond when spoken to directly, shut up when the two are talking to each other, and stop speaking if she is interrupted.
With the feature enabled, Amazon explains how Alexa “is able to use visual and acoustic cues to know when to respond to requests.”
To show that talk mode is on, the Echo Show 10’s screen has a solid blue border. A light blue bar is added to the bottom of the screen when Alexa sends your requests to the cloud – that is, when it pulls information from the web, such as restaurant opening times, to answer your question.
Amazon says that only requests determined to be directed to Alexa are saved and sent to the cloud, just like requests made after you say the wake word outside of talk mode. These recordings can be viewed and deleted by opening the Alexa app and going to Settings, then selecting Alexa Privacy, followed by Review Voice History.
As for deactivating the conversation mode, this is done by looking at the screen of the Echo Show 10 and saying: “Leave the conversation”. Amazon also says the feature will turn off if the Echo Show 10 “doesn’t detect a request within a short period of time.”
If all of this sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of Track Mode, which has been part of Alexa since 2018 and when enabled, Alexa listens for five seconds after responding to your request. During this time, you can ask another question or make another request without saying a wake-up call.
However, it lacks the intelligence of Conversation Mode, as in this case Alexa won’t stop talking when interrupted and doesn’t know when to speak to her. With Follow mode, the assistant will try to respond to every statement he hears, which could include those directed at another person in the room, instead of the Echo device.
For the future, Amazon hopes to teach Alexa to understand “anaphoric interventions”, which would allow a user to interrupt a list read by the assistant. It might mean being able to say “that one” when Alexa mentions a recipe you’d like to try or a restaurant she thinks you might like. If it is reliable, it may sound more natural than saying, for example, “Alexa, choose option three.”
Finally, it is worth highlighting Google Assistant and its own ability to have a smooth conversation, called Continuous Conversation. It does not use a camera and therefore cannot see when it is directly addressed (and will therefore respond to every utterance whether intended for it or not). But, like Alexa’s follow-up mode, keeps the mic open for a few seconds, giving users the option of asking a follow-up question.
For example, you can ask the Google Assistant for the weather forecast, then say “and tomorrow” and it will understand that you are asking for the weather again, without saying it explicitly. For now – and for those US-based Echo Show 10 where talk mode has been rolled out – Amazon’s AI intelligence has the upper hand.