Amazon mulls paid Alexa upgrade

Amazon is contemplating a significant revamp of its Alexa voice assistant, including the introduction of a paid tier powered by advanced artificial intelligence, according to a report by Reuters.

The ecommerce giant is reportedly mulling a monthly fee of $5 to $10 for access to an enhanced version of Alexa, internally dubbed "Remarkable Alexa". This would mark the first major overhaul of the service since its launch in 2014.

The project, known internally as "Banyan", aims to transform Alexa into a conversational AI assistant capable of handling more complex tasks. For instance, the paid version could compose and send emails or order dinner from a food delivery service, all from a single voice command.

Amazon is pushing to have the new version ready by August, with CEO Andy Jassy taking a personal interest in reinvigorating the service. In an April letter to shareholders, Jassy promised a "more intelligent and capable Alexa", though details were scarce at the time.

The move comes as Amazon faces increasing competition in the AI space from rivals such as Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI. Apple is also reportedly working on enhancing its own voice assistant, Siri, with more conversational capabilities.

Despite its popularity for simple tasks like setting timers or checking the weather, Alexa has struggled to generate significant profits for Amazon. The company's attempts to boost e-commerce sales through the service have largely fallen flat.

The proposed revamp would see the current free version, referred to internally as "Classic Alexa", replaced with an AI-powered one. A more advanced tier, utilising more powerful AI software for complex queries, would be available to paying subscribers.

However, some Amazon employees working on the project have expressed scepticism about customers' willingness to pay for a service that is currently free.

The company is also aiming to enhance Alexa's home automation capabilities, potentially allowing the assistant to learn from users' habits and automatically perform tasks like turning on the television for favourite programmes or starting the coffee machine after a morning alarm.

As Amazon races to keep pace with its competitors in the rapidly evolving AI landscape, the success of this Alexa overhaul could prove crucial for the company's future in the smart home market.

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