Amazon Alexa's 'Follow-Up Mode' enables successive requests without trigger word

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2018
In an attempt to stay one step ahead of the virtual assistant competition, like Apple and Google, Amazon recently released a new feature that allows users to ask multiple questions in succession without repeating the "Alexa" wake word.




Most virtual assistants, including Apple's Siri, require users to activate the system with a wake word or phrase -- "Hey Siri" for Apple, "OK Google" for Google Assistant and "Alexa" for Amazon. Starting today, Amazon is allowing users of its Echo devices and some third-party hardware to skip the cumbersome wake-up command with a new feature called "Follow-Up Mode."

As detailed by CNET, the new capability keeps an Alexa-enabled speaker's microphones active for five seconds after responding to query or command. Users can proceed to ask a follow-up question within the allotted time period without repeating "Alexa."

For example, a user might ask, "Alexa, turn off the living room light," then after the lights go out say, "turn on the bedroom light." Previously, those two commands would need to be preceded by the virtual assistant's name. If a user so chooses, they can terminate the conversation by saying a concluding phrase like "thank you" or "stop," Amazon said.

If on an Echo device, the familiar blue ring will stay illuminated during Follow-Up Mode to denote the device is listening for further input.

The company notes Alexa only acts on follow-up queries when it is "confident" that the request is legitimate. How effective and accurate the assistant is at parsing out user commands from background noise remains to be seen.

There are a few restrictions to Amazon's new feature, most of which appear to be in place to address usability and privacy concerns. Alexa will not activate Follow-Up Mode when its host device is streaming music, playing an audiobook or making an Alexa call. The function is also limited to U.S. English, at least for now.

Follow-Up Mode, if it works as advertised, solves a longstanding user experience foible that makes virtual assistant interaction somewhat awkward. While activating devices with a phrase -- as opposed to a tap or touch -- is convenient, repeating that same word or set of words over and over to accomplish multiple or complex tasks is cumbersome at best.

Whether Apple is working on similar technology for Siri is unknown, but the feature would be a welcome addition to its HomeKit-connected HomePod speaker.

For Amazon, Follow-Up Mode provides a welcome distraction from Alexa's recent woes. Earlier this month, users across the U.S. experienced an hours-long downtime due to apparent server difficulties. Days later, an unusual bug that prompted the virtual assistant to abruptly wake from sleep and start cackling.

Amazon later said Alexa in rare cases would misinterpret ambient noise as the request, "Alexa, laugh." The company changed the appropriate command to "Alexa, can you laugh?" and updated Alexa's response to read, "Sure, I can laugh," which is then followed by a laugh.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    racerhomie3racerhomie3 Posts: 1,158member
    I still call it a CIA speaker.
    SpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,272member
    Follow-Up Mode, if it works as advertised, solves a longstanding user experience foible that makes virtual assistant interaction somewhat awkward. 
    It does, but it could be more intelligent in terms of holding a conversation (i.e.: keeping a subject in its current queue). I've been testing it out with multiple queries.

    For example, "Alexa, whose the 1st US president?, [correct reply], "and the second president?" [Correct reply], etc. I got through 5 before I decided stop. However, if you say, , "Alexa, whose the 1st US president?, [correct reply], "and the second?," she's say she doesn't understand the question as she's no longer referencing the previous question.

    While it works as advertised and it's the best utility on the market, there's still a long way to go for it be like we've experienced in sci-fi for generations.
    shrave10
  • Reply 3 of 20
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,071member
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 20
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    Ummm....
    This isn't for Google. The article discusses Amazon's Alexa. You didn't read it before commenting did'ya? ;)
    SpamSandwichmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,272member
    Amazon Alexa's 'Follow-Up Mode' enables successive requests without trigger word
    Unfortunately for many of the regulars on this site this article contains a lot of trigger words.
    edited March 2018 chasmmuthuk_vanalingammknelson
  • Reply 6 of 20
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    Which would be a nice trick, considering it's Amazon's Alexa doing this on Echo devices.
    edited March 2018 Solimuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 7 of 20
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,671member
    Siri has understood context for a long time, if not since day one, on things I ask it. I don’t know if it would get “and the second,” but it would certainly understand “and the second president?” et al.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 20
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,071member
    gatorguy said:
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    Ummm....
    This isn't for Google. The article discusses Amazon's Alexa. You didn't read it before commenting did'ya? ;)
    Yeah I did read it but somehow I confused Amazon's desire to use the user as the product and google's desire to do the same. Easy mistake to make!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 20
    Suraj PadmasaliSuraj Padmasali Posts: 6unconfirmed, member
    Thank God Amazon has finally released the 'Follow-Up Mode' to keep questioning on with Alexa without persisting asking “Alexa” word.  I was really pissed off with Alexa, Alexa, Alexa every time. 
  • Reply 10 of 20
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,925member
    Actually, this a handy feature. Looking forward to being able to do this with Siri. I often dictate messages while driving. Be nice not to have to say hey Siri between each one. 
    shrave10watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,368member
    Siri is listening for at least one response. I always, without thinking, thank Siri after she has told me something.  She always answers with either a nice or a funny response such as 'you are very welcome' or 'it is me who should be thanking you, I wouldn't have a job without you'.  I do not say 'Hey Siri' to elicit  these responses.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,368member
    gatorguy said:
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    Ummm....
    This isn't for Google. The article discusses Amazon's Alexa. You didn't read it before commenting did'ya? ;)
    Reflex Google defense mechanism kicking in well today!  ;)
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 20
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    MacPro said:
    gatorguy said:
    Creepy but no surprisingly so. A sly way for Google to listen in for longer.
    Ummm....
    This isn't for Google. The article discusses Amazon's Alexa. You didn't read it before commenting did'ya? ;)
    Reflex Google defense mechanism kicking in well today!  ;)
    Yeah I know, some folks here would probably rather make it about Google anyway no matter what the topic was. ;)
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 20
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,925member
    MacPro said:
    Siri is listening for at least one response. I always, without thinking, thank Siri after she has told me something.  She always answers with either a nice or a funny response such as 'you are very welcome' or 'it is me who should be thanking you, I wouldn't have a job without you'.  I do not say 'Hey Siri' to elicit  these responses.
    Interesting. That doesn’t happen for me. Just tried before posting to make sure. I have to push the”button” to make Siri listen again. 
  • Reply 15 of 20
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,871member
    Siri was originally introduced as a conversational voice assistant, and I remember Jobs demoed such feature, or showed a video of it. Something must’ve gone horribly wrong after that, Apple was over promised to help push the purchase. 
    Soli
  • Reply 16 of 20
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,178member
    Siri already has this, but only on Apple TV.  You can ask additional questions to refine a movie search.
  • Reply 17 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,368member
    mike1 said:
    MacPro said:
    Siri is listening for at least one response. I always, without thinking, thank Siri after she has told me something.  She always answers with either a nice or a funny response such as 'you are very welcome' or 'it is me who should be thanking you, I wouldn't have a job without you'.  I do not say 'Hey Siri' to elicit  these responses.
    Interesting. That doesn’t happen for me. Just tried before posting to make sure. I have to push the”button” to make Siri listen again. 
    Yeah that's strange. Now I wonder if I am so conditioned I am saying 'hey Siri thank you' and don't even realize it lol.
  • Reply 18 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,368member
    Just a thought here ... Maybe it would be better if we could be allowed to use alternative trigger names to avoid several devices responding to 'Hey Siri'.  Every time I shout across the great room to HomePod to set a timer when I am in the kitchen my iPad in my office also responds.  That would be solved if I could shout 'Hey HomePod ..."
  • Reply 19 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,368member
    Siri was originally introduced as a conversational voice assistant, and I remember Jobs demoed such feature, or showed a video of it. Something must’ve gone horribly wrong after that, Apple was over promised to help push the purchase. 
    Are you meaning with the iPhone or of the earlier Apple concept shown in the Knowledge Navigator movie?  
  • Reply 20 of 20
    mcdave said:
    Siri already has this, but only on Apple TV.  You can ask additional questions to refine a movie search.
    Man, it looks like there are different versions of Siri - Siri for iOS, Siri for macOS, Siri for tvOS, Siri for watchOS and Siri for podOS!
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