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In brief: Would you be willing to pay a subscription fee for Alexa if Amazon infused its aging assistant with generative AI? Probably not, but the tech giant is reportedly going to do it later this year anyway. The paid-for Alexa will be optional, though; the current version isn’t going away.

Reports that Amazon is considering introducing a subscription-based Alexa tier featuring the latest generative AI tech have been swirling for years. Amazon hopes that such a version will be able to match the abilities of ChatGPT and similar chatbots.

According to CNBC sources, the more conversational version of Alexa will launch later in 2024. Amazon has yet to decide how much to charge for the tier, but it won’t be included in the $139 Prime subscription. Some employees have suggested that $20 per month might be required to cover the costs of using the generative AI tech.

There were reports in January that 15,000 customers had been testing the new Alexa, which was codenamed Remarkable Alexa, though Amazon could call the final version Alexa Plus. The tests were said to have yielded disappointing results, with some of the AI’s answers not meeting expectations.

Amazon said last year that the latest language model will allow users to have more human-like conversations with a ‘smarter and more conversational’ Alexa. More recently, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy waxed lyrical about generative AI during Amazon’s Q2 2023 earnings call, saying it was at the “absolute heart of every customer experience in which we offer.”

Jassy previously talked enthusiastically about the mix of generative AI and Alexa. He said the company was building an improved Large Language Model (LLM) that will power the virtual assistant, one that is much larger, much more generalized, and capable.

Alexa is looking increasingly last-gen as new chatbots become more advanced. The recently revealed ChatGPT-4o model, for example, can hold a conversation with a human so well that it’s hard to believe you’re not talking to a person – who is definitely not Scarlett Johansson – at times. Meanwhile, Alexa gets confused when you ask it to turn on a light.

Amazon said that as of 2023, it had sold more than 500 million Alexa-enabled devices, but a 2022 report noted the retention issues the company was facing. It was found that as many as 25% of new Alexa device owners no longer actively used the virtual assistant into their second week of ownership.

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