By: Nick Gambino
If you didn’t trust Alexa before, wait until you start receiving answers on your Echo from some random person on the internet who might actually know less than you. Amazon just announced that they’re opening up Alexa Answers to just about anyone after being in an invite-only beta since December.
Alexa, despite her over-confident manner and all-around snobbery, does not know everything. There are times when she’s helpful and coughs up info I honestly need, but then there are times when I can’t get her to answer a seemingly simple question that I know there’s an answer to. This is why Amazon has chosen to allow Alexa to retrieve answers from humans, you know, people who can actually think.
By crowd-sourcing answers, the online retail giant hopes to fill the gap left by an unthinking digital assistant. The only flaw in the new system is that people are stupid. I mean, not all people, but if social media and the internet has taught us anything it’s that a lot of people are having trouble connecting the dots upstairs.
It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a vetting process. Any person, and I mean literally any person, can upload their answers in areas that they’re interested in or hopefully have some expertise. Alexa will accept and then feed these answers to anyone who asks a question that relates. She tags the answer with “according to an Amazon customer” so you can decide whether you want to believe it or do some further research.
Those that share answers and information will receive their own dashboard complete with stats and ratings. When Alexa uses their answers, the person earns points. The system is very similar to Quora or other forums, only with the use of a voice-activated assistant.
While it doesn’t seem like there’s any human curation system in place to weed out troll answers, people can give these responses a thumbs up or thumbs down and a star rating, letting Alexa know whether it was useful or not. They can also flag answers deemed vulgar or incorrect.
“If more than one response to the same question is provided on Alexa Answers, Alexa will rotate between each of the answers until she has enough information to know which answer is the most useful,” the Alexa Answers FAQs states. “Answers with the most positive feedback will be used more frequently.”
I hope this system as it stands is enough to keep Alexa from being overrun by trolls. Bringing in a human element to her answers is a great idea, I’m just hoping the intelligent cream rises to the top.