The next time you ask a question to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, the answer might come from another Alexa user.
Starting today, Amazon is publicly launching a program called Alexa Answers, which lets anyone field questions asked by users for which Alexa doesn’t already have a response—ones such as:
- What states surround Illinois?
- What’s the proper amount of sleep?
- How many instruments does Stevie Wonder play?
- How much is in a handle of alcohol?
As we’ve seen on platforms such as YouTube and Reddit, web communities can easily become overrun with trolls and other bad actors. Amazon itself has run into issues with fake reviews and occasional “review brigading” on its retail site. With Wikipedia having an ongoing vandalism problem, Alexa Answers would seem to run the risk of being poisoned with “answers” that are offensive or inaccurate. Even people with good intentions could supply incorrect information.
Amazon also isn’t requiring any kind of citation in its responses. That means Alexa Answers participants can’t easily check where information is coming from before upvoting it, and users will only hear “According to an Amazon customer” as the information source in Alexa’s responses. Barton says people just haven’t been asking for citations so far, but he believes a mass of voting across lots of users is a good enough signal for accuracy anyway.