Alexa Hunches Pushes Edge of A.I. Will Users Accept It?

Amazon wants to predict what you’ll want, and when you’ll want it.

The e-commerce giant has announced Alexa Hunches, which will use machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.) to predict customer behaviors and offer advice. For example, if the user says “Goodnight,” Alexa can tell them that a light is still on, or the front door unlocked, because it will know what’s usually locked or off before bedtime.

Hunches hinges on the user buying heavily into Amazon’s ecosystem. At a Sept. 20 presentation, Amazon rolled out several new devices designed to embed Alexa more firmly into the home, including a WiFi-enabled microwave and a Smart Plug, an electric-socket adapter that renders household devices Alexa-enabled. With the Plug in place, users will have the ability to turn those devices on or off with their voice, as well as (depending on the hardware) engage other functionality.

In a bid to compete with Apple’s HomePod and higher-end Google Home speakers, Amazon also unveiled the Echo Sub, a wireless subwoofer; when linked to other Echo speakers with stereo pairing, a feature that hasn’t been released yet, it should help Amazon push back against the narrative that Alexa has worse audio quality than its rivals.

This constitutes a lot of devices and services released in a short span of time, and it all fulfills one core mission (besides boosting Amazon’s year-end sales): creating a robust Alexa ecosystem within as many households as possible. Imagine a home with Smart Plugs connecting hardware in every room, plus Alexa standalone speakers on every floor, plus Alexa-enabled kitchen appliances—all feeding data Amazon’s datacenters with tons of user data, which in turn could be analyzed for Hunches insights.

That sounds like a great future for Amazon, which can use that data (and the promise of Alexa-powered convenience) to sell more products. It might also prove an interesting marketplace for developers (who can build money-generating Alexa skills) and device makers (who can use Alexa interoperability as a selling point). But there’s also the possibility that it could freak out consumers, at least at first—if they were creeped out by their Alexa devices randomly laughing, imagine how they’ll react if Hunches starts unexpectedly telling them to lock their front door at midnight.