Amazon has praised the success of its voice assistant, Alexa, as the tech giant marked the sixth anniversary of the technology’s launch.
First introduced in the US in November 2014 before reaching the UK in 2016, Amazon said the assistant was now available in 82 countries and compatible with more than 140,000 different devices.
The assistant, most commonly found in Amazon’s own line of Echo smart speakers, can also be used on smartphones and to control other smart home devices, with Alexa UK and Ireland manager Dennis Stansbury praising the technology for helping to “enrich lives”.
As part of the sixth-anniversary celebrations, Amazon has released new statistics about how the public uses Alexa, including how the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions impacted interactions with it.
According to the company, in the UK queries about the time dropped compared to previous years, but questions about what day it was increased as people were forced to spend more time at home.
In addition, the number of cooking-related questions doubled during the summer compared to 2019, Amazon said.
“Alexa turns six this month and we wanted to reflect on everything we have accomplished since we introduced the voice assistant to the world,” Mr Stansbury said.
“Since 2014, we’ve seen how Alexa can enrich lives, helping people all around the world to stay connected, informed, entertained, healthy and productive – especially during a time where each matters more than ever before.
“In the UK, we’ve worked hard to make Alexa users’ lives easier, with a big focus on making the AI more quintessentially British.
“With help from special friends such as Susie Dent, we’ve made real progress in making the Alexa experience in the UK better than ever. Alexa is always learning, and we’re proud of how we’ve developed over the last six years, and even more excited to see what the future holds.”
The virtual assistant has not been without controversy during its lifetime however, most notably last year when it and other AI assistants were the subject of privacy concerns.
Amazon – along with other tech firms with AI assistants – came under scrutiny over privacy practices following revelations about industry-wide schemes which see audio data from user interactions with software such as Alexa being listened to and analysed by human staff.
Critics accused tech companies of not clearly stating that other people may hear the recordings as part of the programmes, which were carried out to help improve speech recognition technology.
In response to that outcry, Amazon has since announced a number of new privacy tools designed to give users more control over how their data is collected and stored, including the option to delete previous audio recordings using a single voice command.
But the company has also continued to expand the range of devices through which Alexa can be accessed, announcing a revamped line-up of Echo smart speakers in September.