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Alexa VP: Voice won’t kill the graphical user interface

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It’s becoming increasingly easier to accomplish tasks with your voice, but voice computing won’t replace the graphical user interface, said Alexa Engine VP Al Lindsay.

“Both the [Echo] Show and the Spot have screens, and the Fire TV for that matter which has Alexa in it. When I think about voice, I think it will revolutionize in a natural way the way in which we interface with technology and devices but it’s not going to replace the graphical user interface,” Lindsay said at VB Summit.

The Echo Show, an alarm clock-looking device with a two-inch wide screen was one of half a dozen Echo devices debuted by Amazon late last month.

Like other Alexa leaders, Lindsay referred to the AI assistant from Star Trek as Amazon’s North Star, meaning the goal is for the AI assistant to be as robust as possible and to be available everywhere. But GUIs are just plain better in some scenarios.

“If you can imagine a voice reading back to you a list of 10 items so you can get the one you want, it’s probably not the optimal experience, so I think there’s a sweet spot of combination of multimodal experiences where voice forward which we’re focused on supplemented with a screen for glanceable information or viewable information that allows your brain to process things more quickly,” he said.

In the broad-ranging discussion, Lindsay also talked about the Alexa Prize, a competition sponsored by Amazon to advance bot development. The ability to carry out more human-like conversations at length, Lindsay said, is “a natural place for us to go next.”

Speaking on a panel last month, Alexa VP Ashwin Ram, who led the Alexa Prize, talked about the way some users speak to Alexa like a pet or member of the family, and said a more conversational Alexa could help offset human loneliness.

In the spirit of putting Alexa everywhere you are, Lindsay also discussed plans for Alexa to enter BMW and Ford cars, the recent introduction of unique voice signatures for personalized Alexa experiences, and the possibility of Alexa entering the workplace in a bigger way.

“There’s a number of places [Echo devices are] starting to pop up and I think again the vision of Alexa everywhere and being available to you wherever you are, it’s natural to think there will be an extension to enterprise environments where the Echo or Alexa will play a role,” he predicted.

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