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5,000 People Are Working On Amazon's Digital Assistant Alexa (geekwire.com) 72

Amazon said this week at an event unveiling the next generation Echo device that it has the equivalent of a small town of people -- more than 5,000 -- working on the company's digital assistant, Alexa. From a report: And Amazon's not even at full capacity when it comes to Alexa. The company's job site shows close to 1,100 open positions on a variety of Alexa-focused teams. Voice-activated assistants appear to be the Next Big Thing in the tech world, and Amazon is competing with a who's who of tech giants, including Apple, Microsoft, Google and more. Interestingly, Amazon and Microsoft recently formed a pact that will see the two company's digital assistants gain the ability to talk to one another.
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5,000 People Are Working On Amazon's Digital Assistant Alexa

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  • ... across hardware and software.

    It was bound to happen.

  • I think we can all agree...anybody who owns a device with both a microphone and some kind of internet connection is a total idiot!

    • You just described almost every laptop in existence.

      • You just described almost every laptop in existence.

        And all the phones and tablets. And the All In One PCs. Frankly, just about anything but a whitebox PC that you do not have a microphone on...

        • A piezoelectric speaker that only beeps can be made a microphone. Everything resonates with everything else. Even the POTS ties in with the internet at some point and pay phones are too few and far between. But at least, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up," will always be heard.
    • Re:So Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

      by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @11:04AM (#55269985)
      Unless you actually look at it. I sniffed the wire on Alexa. Once a day there is a small packet exchange. Occasionally that small packet exchange will result in a moderately large download. I am assuming checking for updates and occasionally updating. Other then that, it NEVER initiates traffic without the alert keyword (Alexa by default), and every time it does, it is accompanied by the devices saying something, and what it "heard" is saved in the app for you to look at. I can not say it will always be this way, as it self updates, nor can I say that "deleting" the recordings actually deletes anything other then your list...

      But from my personal testing, it seems to be playing very fair right now.
    • Got a smartphone? Because I'm betting you do.
  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @10:38AM (#55269747)

    ...TV 3D glasses of the computing world.

    All of them suck - Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant - all are worthless in somewhat noisy environments.

    Got kids living at home? Drive a car with the windows cracked open or even the AC running? Forget about using any of them.

    I do admit - I love watching people ask their phones and speakers something 3 or 4 times before getting frustrated and picking up a handheld device. It's comical.

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @10:55AM (#55269913) Journal

      I do admit - I love watching people ask their phones and speakers something 3 or 4 times before getting frustrated and picking up a handheld device.

      My wife has to ask me to take out the garbage 3 or 4 times before getting frustrated and picking up a handheld device (frying pan).

    • The only thing I've seen them do well is entertain at parties. Guests have fun screwing with it, playing music, ordering 5 cases of toilet paper - that sort of thing. But yeah, at this point mostly a toy. It would be kind of cool to, using scripting kung-fu, have it turn off all the lights in the house, but you can already do this with a physical switch by the door and a bit of scripting kung-fu so any improvement is fairly marginal. But if you like to dick with toys, then it provides some entertainment val

    • I don't seem to have this problem with Alexa. Google Maps on Android can be frustrating, but Alexa gets it right almost all the time.
  • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @10:41AM (#55269789)

    The more engineers working on nonsense like that, the more opportunities there are for the rest of us.

    • Yeah! Opportunities like working on a team of 5000 engineers at another company's voice assistant!

    • The more engineers working on nonsense like that, the more opportunities there are for the rest of us.

      Nonsense? How many people want to live in the Star Trek universe? Doors that just open for you, but not just anyone. Lights, music, TV and food just by asking aloud. They can not do the doors and food yet, but lights TV and Music work!

      • I could really do without all that. Sitting on the couch all day asking a robot to bring me everything sounds rather dull and sedentary. (I realize a lot of slashdotters do this already, with Mom not a robot... But it's not for me.) I only hit the light switch maybe 2 or 3 times a day, and it takes about 5 seconds to walk across the room and do it. I doubt Alexa could do it faster, or get the circulation in my legs moving properly, like getting up every once in a while does. Maybe the self-flipping light sw
    • I didn't see a reference to engineers in the summary.
      It could be that they are the stuff of Raj's nightmares...
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-SVvtxHJGU [youtube.com]
  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @11:00AM (#55269947)

    Let's throw more developers at it! (management)

    Seriously? 5,000 on staff for that thing? Something is seriously wrong here because I cannot imagine needing that many people for a project like this. What are all these folks doing? Certainly not just Alexa system development. What else are they doing?

    • I can only assume they think the technology will be cross applicable to other projects on their wish list. Probably some sort of AI or pseudo-AI to take it from a toy to being Jarvis from Iron Man, except he mostly tries to solve your problems by buying things from Amazon.
      • Sure, Got to make a profit on those 5,000 salaries.... That means selling stuff and services....

        Still, it's got to be more than Alexa as a sales portal... ("Alexa, Please get me some TP, I'm stuck here until you do!") .... They have got to be planning some kind of value added service or something... My question is What?

        • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @01:00PM (#55270835)
          Well, Amazon runs cloud services for pretty much everything. So, if they treat the voice activated digital assistant as a sort of OS (I guess like the movie Her?) that can hop into the cloud and take care of your banking that is being run off of their servers already, then Chase (supports Alexa banking!) gets a leg up on Citi (didn't pay for the license, but switch to Chase and get a free month of Amazon Prime!) or whatever and Amazon gets a slice of everything else you do online that isn't direct e-commerce. They probably see being the dominant voice assistant as being the next search engine/OS wars of decades prior. And, sure, if you can really talk to the thing like a person you'll probably develop an irrational emotional attachment to it and then they've got customer lock in. So that puts them into as dominant a position as MS used to have and Google has in terms of platform, while also being the company you buy your mail order groceries from.
    • Maybe they're trying to make assistants to program the assistants.

    • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Thursday September 28, 2017 @01:20PM (#55270973)

      Seriously? 5,000 on staff for that thing? Something is seriously wrong here because I cannot imagine needing that many people for a project like this. What are all these folks doing? Certainly not just Alexa system development. What else are they doing?

      What are they doing? Must be Alexa is really a Mechanical Turk [wikipedia.org]!

      Every time you say "Alexa, ..." one of those 5000 people jumps to attention and handles your request :)

    • by d0rp ( 888607 )

      Let's throw more developers at it! (management)

      Seriously? 5,000 on staff for that thing? Something is seriously wrong here because I cannot imagine needing that many people for a project like this. What are all these folks doing? Certainly not just Alexa system development. What else are they doing?

      I imagine that number includes the people working on all of those new hardware devices that they just announced yesterday, as well as all the QA, marketing, management and other support staff. Plus all the related stuff, like ensuring that the "smart hub" built into the new Echo Pro actually works with the 3rd party devices (i.e. lights, switches, plugs, thermostats, etc) and all the people that are adding the new "skills" to Alexa on a constant basis (well, at least the non-3rd party skills)

  • by Zorro ( 15797 )

    So when is the Furby going to be resurrected as a digital assistant? How about Teddyruxpin?

  • A billion apes with keyboards are translating the western canon into txt-speak

  • 3.4

    A manager went to the master programmer and showed him the requirements document for a new application. The manager asked the master: ``How long will it take to design this system if I assign five programmers to it?''

    ``It will take one year,'' said the master promptly.

    ``But we need this system immediately or even sooner! How long will it take if I assign ten programmers to it?''

    The master programmer frowned. ``In that case, it will take two years.''

    ``And what if I assign a hundred programmers to it?''

    The master programmer shrugged. ``Then the design will never be completed,'' he said.

    You'd think Amazon would know better... 5000 people, Sheesh. They'll actually be undesigning it -- "never completed" is nowhere near strong enough.

    • Software is *never* complete. There's always one more thing to do....

      • Depending on the task being coded, sure. Operating systems are never complete. Programs written to count all of the letters in a standard text file and turn them into a simple table of frequencies, on the other hand, are, or would be if it weren't for the pesky operating systems and compilers and libraries and execution interfaces that keep changing.

        But in context at the level of Alexa and other zwave smart device interfaces, hell yes, the software will never be complete because a lot of it IS operating s

  • Google has so much data feeding into it's AI and Assistant programs, I'm sure the coders are probably just there to make sure the things don't go sentient on them. Amazon has no such access and Alexa's low quality responses to many requests really show this. We got a Dot for free and use it for exactly two things, adding items to shopping lists and setting reminders for the kids. Nearly every other thing outside of "what'st the weather" gets an "I'm sorry, I don't know".
  • I just received a 1 inch rubber grommet in the mail in a foot long ups express shipping box + bubble wrap bag. Very expensive and wasteful. I have been avoiding Amazon because I refuse to use prime and their shipping is really expensive. Often you can see the retailer selling same item on Ebay with free shipping.
  • Biological assistants then? Not electronic.

  • 5000k people, with even more being hired - it boggles the mind what so many people could be doing related to voice assistance. It seems like before long you can expect to see Alexa support in nearly everything on earth - from cars (they already have a BWM/MINI integration coming soon), but beyond that probably every home appliance, shower heads, toilets, wallpaper... it must be EVERYTHING.

  • I didn't get that.

  • Well the attempts to be funny then
  • 5K Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, German, Spanish etc... Multi language will take a tremendous effort but once they get critical mass for minor deviations then can scale back development.

Systems programmers are the high priests of a low cult. -- R.S. Barton

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