This nugget of info emerged from a Bloomberg interview with Dave Limp, who is SVP of Amazon Devices & Services currently, though he is leaving the company later this year. (Whispers on the grapevine are that Panos Panay, a big-hitting exec who just left Microsoft, will replace Limp).
Bloomberg’s Dave Lee broadly observed that the future of Alexa could involve a more sophisticated AI assistant, but one that device owners would need to fork out to subscribe to.
This would be an avenue of monetization, giving that the previous hope for spinning out some extra cash – having folks order more stuff online using Alexa, bolstering revenue that way – just hasn’t worked out for Amazon (not in any meaningful fashion, at least).
After Limp talked about Amazon pushing forward using generative AI to build out Alexa’s features, Lee fired out a question about whether there’ll come a time when those Alexa AI capabilities won’t be free – and are offered via a subscription instead.
Limp replied in no uncertain terms: “Yes, we absolutely think that,” noting the costs of training the AI model (properly), and then adding: “But before we would start charging customers for this – and I believe we will – it has to be remarkable.”
Analysis: Superhuman assistance?
So, there’s your weighty caveat. Limp makes it clear, in fact, that expectations would be built around the realization of a ‘superhuman’ assistant if Amazon was to charge for Alexa’s AI chops as outlined.
Limp clarifies that Alexa, as it is now, almost certainly won’t be charged for, and that the contemporary Alexa will remain free. He also suggested that Amazon has no idea of a pricing scheme yet for any future AI-powered Alexa that is super-smart.
This means the paid-for Alexa AI skills we’re talking about would be highly prized and a long way down the road for development with Amazon’s assistant. This isn’t anything that will remotely happen soon, but what it is, nonetheless, is a clear enough signal that this path of monetization is one Amazon is fully considering traveling down. Eventually.
As to exactly what timeframe we might be talking about, Limp couldn’t be drawn to commit beyond it not being “decades” or “years” away, with the latter perhaps hinting that maybe this could happen sooner than we may imagine.
We think it’ll be a difficult sell for Amazon in the nearer-term, though. Especially as plans are currently being pushed through to shove adverts into Prime Video early next year, and you’ll have to pay to avoid watching those ads. (As a subscriber to Prime, even though you’re paying for the video streaming service – and other benefits – you’ll still get adverts unless you stump up an extra fee).
If Amazon is seen to be watering down the value proposition of its services too much, or trying to force a burden of monetization in too many different ways, that’ll always run the risk of provoking a negative reaction from customers. In short, if the future of a super-sophisticated Alexa is indeed paying for AI skills, we’re betting this won’t be anytime soon – and the results better be darn impressive.
We must admit, we have trouble visualizing the latter, too, especially when as it currently stands, we can’t get Alexa to understand half the internet radio stations we want to listen to, a pretty basic duty for the assistant.
Okay, so Amazon did have some interesting new stuff to show off with Alexa’s development last week, but we remain skeptical on how that’ll pan out in the real-world, and obviously more so on how this new ‘superhuman’ assistant will be in the further future. In other words, we’ll keep heaping the salt on for the time being...
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Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).