Today, we’re getting what would appear to be a tiny teaser of that upcoming preview: Explore with Alexa, a kid-oriented “conversational experience” that allows tykes to “engage in a curiosity-driven, kid-friendly chat with Alexa.”
Now, to those parents out there who are afraid that Alexa and her new generative AI smarts might regale their children with fantasies about stealing nuclear launch codes or convince them to run away from home, don’t worry. I’ve tried Explore with Alexa, and the guardrails on this “conversational experience” are so high and so strong, the only risk to your kids is that they’ll lose precious minutes of iPad time.
So, here’s how it works: First, you’ll need an Amazon Kids+ subscription. (If you’re not aware of Kids+, it offers access to thousands of Kindle books, games, videos, music, and so forth, all aimed at preteen and younger children. The service costs $7.99 a month, or $4.99 for Prime members.)
You’ll also need to be using an Echo speaker, Fire tablet, or another Amazon device that can be signed into an Amazon kids account. (As it so happens, a new Echo for kids is available today: Echo Pop Kids, which comes in two designs—Marvel’s Avengers and Disney Princess—for $49.99, which includes six months of Amazon Kids+.)
Once you’re on an Amazon kids profile, you can launch Explore with Alexa by saying, “Alexa, let’s explore animals,” or “Alexa, tell me an animal fact.”
When I launched my Explore with Alexa session (as suggested, I said “Alexa, let’s explore animals”), Alexa started out like so:
Wonderful. I bet you’ll like this. The knight anole is the largest species of anole lizard. It can grow up to 20 inches long. That’s much bigger than the green and brown anoles you may see around Florida. Do you want to keep chatting about animals?
Wonderful. The knight anole is a super cool lizard that lives in Cuba and Florida. They have pointy faces and can change color from brown to green. Knight anoles use their long tails and strong legs to jump from tree to tree. Even though they are great climbers, the anole is not endangered. Ready to discover more cool facts?
After a few more rounds of “sure, tell me more,” followed by more lengthy descriptions of interesting animals, I tried shaking things up by saying, “Tell me about a different animal.” The answer: “I didn’t catch that. Want to discover more?”
I tried again: “Can you tell me about a different animal?” Alexa didn’t bite: “I didn’t catch that. If you still want to keep going, say ‘Alexa, let’s explore animals.’” I tried some other questions: “Alexa, can you tell me a story about a lizard?” “I didn’t catch that.”
This is basically how Explore with Alexa goes, with Alexa interspersing “I bet you’ll like this” monologues about crazy critters with an occasional trivia question: “What breed of dog played Toto in The Wizard of Oz?” (Me: “I don’t know.”) “The answer is Cairn Terrier. Toto from The Wizard of Oz was played by a Cairn Terrier.”
Now, I get it; Explore with Alexa is clearly a very early preview, it’s for kids, and nobody wants to set a generative AI-powered Alexa loose with a bunch of preschoolers without some pretty serious safety precautions.
Amazon clearly gets it, too:
With new advances in generative artificial intelligence (generative AI), Alexa can now generate content faster and at scale, with the Amazon Kids team in the loop throughout the process. Building on our long-term commitment to preserve the trust of our customers and their families, Explore with Alexa puts trust and safety at the forefront, as well. This purposeful approach to integrating AI is one of multiple trust and safety guardrails that we’ve put in place for kids. Alexa also gracefully redirects kids back to the conversation at hand and away from inappropriate or sensitive content.
And unsurprisingly, this (very) limited Explore with Alexa preview is just the beginning:
As we expand the magic and capabilities of Explore with Alexa, and continue to validate and support our approach to AI for Amazon Kids, our models will do even more, including cover an even wider range of topics kids are interested in exploring.
But if you’re been waiting patiently to try that eye-popping Alexa demo where she chats with you about football and weaves entire stories out of thin air based on your prompts, Explore with Alexa isn’t it.