Amazon Sharpens its Senses with Personalized Alexa AI Patent

The tech adds to its ongoing efforts to make Alexa more intuitive and contextual.

Photo of an Amazon patent
Photo via U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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Alexa may be listening to more than just the words you say. 

Amazon filed a patent application for a system that recognizes and responds to “environmental noises.” This system essentially learns all of the specific noises in your home, from dogs barking to washing machines running to your footsteps, to elicit specific responses related to each one. 

Amazon’s system may designate a noise as an audio prompt after picking up on it more than a predetermined number of times. For example, the system may pause a television in response to hearing a baby crying, or may respond to different user’s ringtones in separate manners upon hearing them. Or, it may respond differently to hearing a child’s voice than a parent’s, automatically creating parental controls based on the user’s voice.

Amazon noted that these assistants would use machine learning within a “cloud based acoustic modeling system” to pick up on and categorize these noises. Because of this, “each audio controlled assistant has its own particular language models and acoustic models, which are customized for the acoustic environment” specific to the user. 

“Vocal interaction with computers are typically pre-programmed to recognize only specific generic spoken words or voice commands,” said Amazon. “There is a need for techniques to configure audio controlled devices to detect personalized audio commands for each particular acoustic environment.” 

Amazon has been expanding its Alexa capabilities for years. The company already offers ways to connect the devices throughout your entire home, including locking doors, turning on lights and changing thermostats. The company also added its own generative AI language model to the devices in September, which can understand and respond with better context.

Its patent applications also reveal a number of potential innovations to the voice assistants, including sensitive data control that keeps your personal information safe from prying eyes (and ears), and the capability to recognize emotion within speech using AI. 

Amazon’s general AI push also likely helps its efforts in the voice assistant department. The company has filed tons of patent applications for a vast range of AI tech, invested in firms like Anthropic and Hugging Face, and touted tons of new AI-related innovations at Re:Invent in November. 

However, the company has long dominated the US smart speaker market. Its stream of patent filings and announcements signal that Alexa will only become more intuitive with time as its capabilities become more embedded in user’s lives.

But like any speech recognition-based system, this kind of convenience comes with the caveat of putting a lot of trust into the companies that sell them. This patent suggests that this tech will learn as it hears, collecting a lot of audio data to feed to a cloud-based acoustic modeling system. Amazon treating this data responsibly when implementing this is crucial, both for its customer’s privacy and its own reputation.