Amazon Alexa is set to get smarter with custom AI processors


Amazon’s sudden move into AI chip development suggests they want to make your conversations with Alexa as delay-free as possible.

As first reported by The Information, Amazon plans to create proprietary AI chips and place them in its Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot, and every other speaker in their lineup. This will allow your new device to handle speech recognition and data processing locally instead of shipping it off to the cloud first.

Right now, whenever you ask Alexa about the weather, she doesn’t know what you’re asking; she just transcribes the words into data and sends that data to the cloud for information. With integrated chip software, Alexa would hear and understand your question – maybe even remember you asking it before – and could look up the forecast without needing to send data to and from Amazon’s remote servers.

With over 400 employees with AI chip expertise, Amazon hopes they’ll be able to improve response time to your questions, as well as improve the quality of responses overall. The Information speculates that these chips could even help prevent your Alexa data from being hacked, and the chip could help Alexa stay functional if Amazon’s cloud ever goes offline.

Shaking up the AI industry

Amazon used to rely on Intel and Nvidia for its processor chips (we called Nvidia an “AI and graphics card titan” last year). Now, with Amazon deciding to strike out on its own for Alexa, Nvidia and Intel might be running out of companies to sell their AI chips to: Google, Apple and Samsung all rely on first-party AI chips for their devices.

Google’s Tensor Processing Unit chips are what power DeepMind, its AI program designed to “learn like a human” by recalling previously learned skills and connections between ideas. 

In Amazon’s quest to give Alexa a more “human” response time, these AI chips will likely focus of speech-based connections: linking the words you say to the thing you most likely want answered or purchased, without needing to consult huge amounts of cloud data to infer the answer.

We don’t know how long it will take for Amazon to develop and integrate these chips, but we’re excited about the implications. Voice assistants like Alexa dominated CES this year: dozens of companies integrated their devices into Amazon’s voice-assisted network. If controlling your devices get even faster than before, then a truly “smart” home doesn’t seem too far out of reach.

  • If you like smart speakers, don’t miss our review of the Apple HomePod

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