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Amazon’s Alexa takes a significant leap, venturing into conversational AI for kids with the launch of ‘Explore with Alexa.’ The famous tech giant Amazon is now enabling kids to engage with an AI-powered Alexa through a feature known as ‘Explore with Alexa.‘ This innovative feature, announced in September, is a part of the Amazon Kids+ content subscription and is designed to facilitate kid-friendly interactions with Alexa, powered by generative AI, while ensuring a safe and appropriate experience.
A Pioneer in Conversational AI for Young Users
Although AI experiences already cater to the younger audience, such as AI chatbots from Character.ai and other companies, including Meta, Amazon stands out as one of the first to specifically employ generative AI for developing a conversational experience tailored for kids under 13.
However, harnessing generative AI for this purpose comes with its own set of challenges. For instance, generative AI can be misled or ‘hallucinate’ answers, and kids might pose inappropriate questions. To tackle these potential issues, Amazon has implemented strict controls around using generative AI for kids.
Creating a Safe and Engaging Experience
To begin with, the Alexa Kids science team has carefully curated the new experience only to include kid-friendly fun facts and trivia questions. The content, powered by Alexa’s Large Language Model (LLM) technology, will initially be sourced from just two partners, the World Wildlife Fund and A-Z Animals. Over time, the team plans to expand the AI to include other areas of interest for kids, like space, music, video games, and sports.
Moreover, the generative AI experience is not happening in real-time on the device. As explained by Arjun Venkataswamy, senior product manager for Alexa Kids, the team uses the LLM to generate content at scale offline, which then undergoes a review process involving both humans and AI. Only after this thorough review does the content become a part of the experience.
Ensuring Safety with AI
Given that AI can generate tens of thousands of potential responses, it is only feasible for some answers to be reviewed by a human before being added to the experience. To address this, Amazon also employs AI to assist in reviewing the materials used for ‘Explore with Alexa.’
To initiate the new experience, kids can trigger the AI-generated facts or trivia by uttering a phrase that activates ‘Explore with Alexa,’ such as “Alexa, let’s explore animals,” or “Alexa, tell me an animal fact.” They can also engage in organic conversations with Alexa where this topic could naturally arise, for example, by asking, “What does a lion’s roar sound like?” or “How fast can a cheetah run?”
Over the next few months, Alexa occasionally asks kids if they want to hear something interesting about animals. Unlike traditional interactions with Alexa, this AI experience works both ways, meaning that Alexa will also ask questions to the kids. This interactive approach ensures a more engaging and memorable learning experience for children.
Future Prospects and Concerns
Ultimately, Amazon aims to integrate this generative AI experience at runtime for kids and adults. Still, the company must proceed cautiously, especially with the former. Amazon will also launch an AI-powered “Let’s Chat” Alexa experience for adults later this year.
Regarding privacy, the company assures that it is not training its LLM on kids’ answers and that the ‘Explore with Alexa’ experience and any future LLM-backed features will continue to adhere to the same data handling policies as ‘classic Alexa.’ The Alexa app will include a list of the questions asked by kids and the responses provided by Alexa, which can be stored or deleted manually or automatically based on the user’s settings.
Launching Echo Pop Kids Speakers
Alongside the launch of ‘Explore with Alexa,’ Amazon is also releasing the new Echo Pop Kids speakers, starting at $49.99 in the U.S. These speakers come in two new designs: Marvel’s Avengers and Disney Princess, featuring corresponding character themes. Kids can use these devices to hear a greeting, fun fact, or joke about an Avenger or Disney Princess in line with the music. In addition, the devices include six-month access to the Amazon Kids+ subscription service, offering a range of kid-friendly games, apps, books, videos, and more, including custom Alexa themes.
Although the ‘Explore with Alexa’ feature is designed for Kids’ devices, it can also be accessed on any device set to kids mode or any communal family device, provided the parents have set up their kids’ voice ID. Initially, ‘Explore with Alexa’ will be available in English only, with plans for internationalization further down the line.