Are Alexa and Siri AI?

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Voice assistants are examples of conversational artificial intelligence

It might be some time before we see the futuristic concept of artificial intelligence that is depicted in science fiction novels and films come about in real life, but AI is still all around us. Most homes have some form of voice assistant gadget, such as an Alexa smart home device or Siri assistant on an iPhone. These machines have developed the ability to learn and respond in a way similar to humans’ cognitive abilities, all thanks to artificial intelligence algorithms.

Are Alexa and Siri considered AI?
Yes. Alexa and Siri are applications powered by artificial intelligence. They rely on natural language processing and machine learning, two subsets of AI, to improve performance over time.

Amazon’s Alexa is a voice-controlled system that works alongside the Echo speaker that receives the spoken request. The artificial intelligence capability within Alexa allows the user to speak the request and receive a response without ever having to touch a screen or push a button.

Apple’s Siri acts similarly to Alexa, but it is a computer application primarily used in the company’s phones and tablets. Its artificial intelligence mechanism recognizes speech, processes it as data, and then responds with an answer or action. Siri can answer questions and fulfill requests, such as reading a text message out loud or playing a song on the device.

Both Siri and Alexa, along with other virtual agents, are designed to communicate in a way that’s similar to natural human conversation. In a mere moment, these machines can give an answer to inquiries, such as “What is the weather today” or “How do I make chicken noodle soup?” This is all possible because of conversational artificial intelligence.

What is conversational artificial intelligence?
Conversational AI is a type of artificial intelligence that attempts to mimic real-life human conversations. Siri, Alexa and other voice assistants are examples of conversational AI. These bots are not simply programmed with answers to questions but instead are a result of machine learning and natural language processing. They have extensive amounts of data that allow them to recognize speech and text to then translate these inputs into meaning.

Natural language processing in Alexa and Siri
Natural language processing (NLP) allows a voice assistant machine, like Alexa and Siri, to understand the words spoken by the human and to replicate human speech. This process converts speech into sounds and concepts, and vice versa.

For Alexa, the voice of the speaker is recorded and sent to Amazon’s servers to analyze which words most closely correlate with the sounds spoken. Once the command is understood, Amazon then sends the requested information back to the device and in some cases, Alexa will speak a response.

For Siri, a small speech recognizer is stored directly on the device to wait for the words “Hey Siri” to be spoken. If there is enough confidence that the phrase spoken was “Hey Siri,” the device will activate. Once the command or request is given by the human speaker, Siri takes the audio, converts it into a data file and sends it back to the Apple servers. Here, the main automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding functions break down the command. This data gets sifted through algorithms to determine the inputted phrase’s meaning. A response is then given back to the user.

Machine learning helps Alexa and Siri learn
Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence that allows computers to learn without explicitly being trained. It is used by the device to learn about the habits and preferences of the owner of the voice assistant. Over time, these machines get better with responses and requests.

Alexa and Siri use machine learning to improve based on the errors they make. They use data from negative encounters, such as the speaker rejecting an answer, to train and improve for future requests. Because of machine learning, these devices continue to get smarter and more advanced. Alexa can now carry on a conversation from one request to the next, as in a follow-up question. Siri has improved its ability to recognize the “Hey Siri” wake up command even when there is loud background noise or music.

What level of AI are Siri and Alexa?
There are two different categories of AI: strong AI and weak AI. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are classified as weak AI. This type of AI, also referred to as narrow AI, gives the illusion of human intelligence but cannot think for itself. Strong AI, in contrast, would be an AI machine that is equal in intelligence to a human.

What level of AI are Siri and Alexa?
There are two different categories of AI: strong AI and weak AI. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are classified as weak AI. This type of AI, also referred to as narrow AI, gives the illusion of human intelligence but cannot think for itself. Strong AI, in contrast, would be an AI machine that is equal in intelligence to a human.

Recent shifts have been made to revive these machines as both companies have openly discussed developing new models with greater natural language processing abilities. Amazon announced that their new Alexa AI model will focus on generalized intelligence, where models can transfer knowledge between tasks and languages without human input. In Amazon’s blog, they acknowledge that these developments were inspired by OpenAI. Apple has also announced the next generation of Siri with enhanced capabilities using contextual language and machine learning technology.

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