Amazon brings conversational AI to kids with ‘Explore with Alexa’ TechCrunch

Image credit: Amazon

Amazon Echo devices now allow kids to have interactive conversations with AI-powered Alexa through a new feature called Explore with Alexa. First announced in September, the addition of Amazon Kids+ content subscriptions allows kids to have friendly conversations with Alexa, powered by artificial intelligence, but in a protected way designed to ensure the experience is safe and appropriate. .

Although there are already some AI experiences aimed at younger users, such as AI chatbots from and other companies, including Meta, Amazon is among the first companies to specifically focus on generative AI to create A conversational experience for children under the age of looking. 13.

This also comes with limitations, however, as generative AI can be led astray or illusory answers, while children can ask inappropriate questions. To address these potential problems, Amazon has put in place fences on the use of next-generation artificial intelligence for children.

For starters, the Alexa Kids science team narrowed down the new experience, which uses Alexas LLM (Large Language Model) technology, to include only fun facts and trivia questions for kids. Initially, content will only come from two partners, the World Wildlife Fund and AZ Animals. Over time, the team would like to expand AI to include other areas of interest to children such as space, music, video games and sports.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the generative AI experience does not happen in real time on the device.

We want to go slow and be deliberate and be measured by how we introduce this new technology as well as any new technology to the kids, which is why we’re not just plugging the experience into an LLM at runtime and kind of letting the kids at Arjun Venkataswamy , Alexa Kids’ senior product manager, explains in an interview with TechCrunch. The way we integrate an LLM here is we use it to generate content at scale offline, and then we do a review process that involves both humans and artificial intelligence, and then that We take the reviewed content and then put it into our experience. He says.

In other words, kids aren’t using artificial intelligence when talking to Alexa, and the content is pre-screened and comes from a small dataset of animal facts and sources.

However, since AI can generate tens of thousands of potential responses, not every response can be checked by a human before being added to the experience. To this end, Amazon also uses artificial intelligence to help review the materials used to explore with Alexa.

What our AI does is take the trusted content and then figure out what’s fun, look at the fun stuff, turn it into a trivia question, so useful things for us at scale. It does things we couldn’t do without this tool, but we feel Venkataswamy says it’s really good about the safety fences that are currently in place in terms of content.

To access the new experience, kids can activate AI-generated facts or trivia in one of two ways. They can say a specific phrase that starts exploring with Alexa, like Alexa, let’s explore animals or Alexa, tell me an animal fact. But a more interesting way to use this feature is to have kids engage in organic conversations with Alexa, where this topic can come up. For example, a child might ask what is the sound of a lion roaring. Or how fast can a cheetah run? This also allows children to engage in a more question-and-answer conversational experience.

Plus, over the next few months, Alexa will ask kids at some point if they want to hear something interesting about animals.

Unlike more traditional conversations with Alexa, the AI ​​experience works in two ways. It means that only children do not ask Alexa questions and get answers.

“One of the things we think is really cool about this paradigm is that kids aren’t just asking Alexa questions and getting answers. Alexa is now asking kids questions,” says Venkataswamy. That means Alexa can ask kids a simple question like what is the fastest animal on earth?

As any teacher will tell you, even though kids try to think of the answer first, the answer sticks better when they hear it.

Currently, it is narrow. Alexa asks kids trivia questions, Venkataswamy continues. But we want to continue to expand it and make it more interactive.

Ultimately, Amazon wants to integrate this generative AI experience at runtime for both kids and adults, but it knows it has to tread carefully, especially with the former.

We want to integrate an LLM at runtime in a more protected way than integrating it for adults, however, this approach will allow us to iterate and explore appropriate ways to get safe and enjoyable content from the LLM for children,” says Venkataswamy. do.

Amazon is also preparing to launch an AI-powered Lets Chat Alexa experience for adults later this year, based on the same LLM stack.

In terms of privacy, the company notes that it does not train its LLM on children’s responses. Additionally, the Explore with Alexa experience and any future features powered by LLM will follow the same data management policies as classic Alexa (non-AI Alexa). This means that the Alexa app includes a list of questions asked by the kids in the family (those with a kid profile) and the answer that Alexa provides. This history can be saved or deleted manually or automatically depending on your settings.

Image credit: Amazon

Along with the launch of Explore with Alexa, the new Echo Pop Kids speakers will also be available for purchase in the US now for $49.99.

Echo Pop Kids will be available in two new designs: Marvels Avengers and Disney Princess themed with the respective characters. Kids can use the devices to hear a greeting, fun fact or joke about an Avenger or Disney princess, depending on the theme. Both also include six months of access to the Amazon Kids+ subscription service, which offers a range of games, apps, books, videos and more, including custom Alexa themes, in addition to exploring with Alexa.

However, you don’t need a children’s device to use Explore with Alexa. If parents have set up Voice ID for their kids, this feature works on any device set to child mode or any shared family device.

Initially, Explore with Alexa will only be available in English, but internationalization is coming soon.

However, it’s harder for Amazon to estimate when such a runtime AI feature will be available for kids.

I can’t give you a timeline because we don’t have a concrete answer yet for what we’re going to do, although we have programs and experiments that we’re planning to look at,” says Venkataswamy. I will say that in terms of our benchmarks for when we’re going to get there, we’ve been working closely with the Family Trust team at Amazon, which is connected to various research institutions in the United States and wants to be able to win an external trust. He adds that our approach is correct.

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