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Amazon Alexa Answers Program Goes Public

Amazon has made its Alexa Answers program available to the general public to crowdsource recommendations for unprogrammed questions.

Anyone can now go to the Alexa Answers site to post an answer to frequently asked questions in under 300 characters, with any user generate answer noted as information “according to an Amazon customer.”

Amazon’s vice president of Alexa Information has expressed great excitement in people being able to contribute to Alexa, and having community-created content.

“There’s not yet another experience that allows for that as much,” said Mr Barton.

Experts and users, however, have expressed concerns over misuse despite Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s claiming automatic and manual mechanisms have been implemented to prevent abuse of the platform.

One major red flag are answers do not require citation; instead, it relies on ratings by other Alexa Answer users via an upvote-downvote system on the website.

However, Amazon won’t specify whether an answer requires a certain number of upvotes before Alexa starts reproducing it, or how many downvotes are needed to omit the answer from the assistant’s lexicon.

Ginger Gorman, an online hate expert and the author of Troll Hunting, said Amazon is playing with fire by opening up answer fulfilment to the public.

While the likes of Wikipedia and Google have used crowdsourcing information strategies before, according to Ms Gorman, Amazon Answers appears to lack the intensive editing structure that helps prevent abuse.

Examples of users taking over crowdsourced artificial intelligence can be found in Microsoft’s AI-powered bot Tay which quickly became a racist, genocidal Twitter user after only a few hours in 2016.

Fast Company has reported that the Amazon Answer’s algorithm will filter out any profanity and questions of political leanings, with some intervention from human editors.

“Obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, or infringing of intellectual property rights (including publicity rights)” answers will automatically be rejected, according to Amazon.

Amazon spokeswoman Kerry Hall said filters had been put in place to flag whenever a contributor is editing an answer multiple times, to help prevent potentially offensive questions and answers from surfacing.

Amazon has faced backlash for the change to Amazon Answers, as many users did not realise the change had even occurred, with the platform initially invite-only during its beta testing.

In a time when tech giants like Apple and Google have faced criticism for listening to recorded conversations, the leap into crowdsourcing answers may lead to further controversy in the smart assistant industry.

Amazon stated last month it would update its privacy policies to allow users to opt-out of having humans review recordings as well as the ability to delete voice records, announced in May.

Ms Hall added in an email that Amazon would continue to evolve Alexa Answers aiming to produce high-quality answers for its voice assistant program.

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