Amazon is reportedly working on its own artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chip to interface with Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant, according to a Monday (Feb. 12) report by technology news source Engadget. The chip would work on all Alexa-powered devices, including the company’s Echo line of smart speakers.
Embedding an AI chip into the devices would enable Alexa to respond more quickly because her speech recognition would be located in the device rather than contacting the cloud to get the information to a user. That middleman situation means there is currently a delay in Alexa accessing the cloud to interpret users’ voice commands. The virtual assistant would still need to access the cloud for complex requests, even with the AI chip added to Amazon devices’ functionalities, but Echo devices with the embedded AI chip would be able to answer basic questions — such as the current time — without that delay.
The company’s ability to develop the AI chip comes from its acquisition of Israel-based microelectronics company Annapurna Labs in 2015. Amazon has since been slowing working on the product and staffing chip engineers to its Amazon Web Services (AWS) team, moves that imply it could use its own AI chips for its cloud computing offering in the future.
While Amazon getting into the chip business and adding to its AWS team is newsworthy, it’s not the first company to go down the road of technological advancements. Google and Apple, both of which designed their own AI-based semiconductors, have made similar strategic decisions.
That the eCommerce giant is working on an AI chip doesn’t mean one will actually come to market, but its push comes as Alexa-powered devices have achieved enough popularity to sell out during the holiday season. Amazon is facing competition from Apple with the HomePod, Google’s Home and Microsoft’s smart speakers as the race to own the voice-activated digital assistant market heats up.