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Voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa are 'far too stupid' to speak to humans, analyst says

  • Amazon Alexa and other voice assistants are "far too stupid" to hold conversations with humans, one analyst claims.
  • Adding a screen to the Amazon Echo Show covers up Alexa's "shortcomings" the analyst said.

Amazon's Alexa and other voice assistants are "far too stupid" to hold conversations with users and the e-commerce giant's latest Echo Show product with a screen is an attempt to address the "shortcomings" of voice interaction, an analyst has claimed.

On Tuesday, Amazon unveiled the Echo Show, a voice-controlled speaker with a touchscreen display which will be available in June for $229.99. It's the next generation of its Echo speaker product.

But one analyst has criticized Alexa, the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant that allows users to interact with the device.

"The problem is simply that Alexa (and all other others) are far too stupid to be able to hold a meaningful conversation with a user. Google Assistant is currently the best but remains woefully short of what one would consider to be a useful assistant," Richard Windsor, analyst at Edison Investment Research, wrote in a note on Wednesday.

"Digital assistants were designed to replace the human variety but because their intelligence is so limited, they are unable to hold a coherent conversation with the user. Human assistants do not need to use screens to understand requests, relay information and carry out tasks meaning that the perfect digital assistant should not either."

Google Assistant is the U.S. search giant's own voice assistant which competes with Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft Cortana.

Windsor said that having a screen does make interactions with the machine easier and also could open the door for Amazon to use this space to advertise. But ultimately, the screen is an attempt to "make up for the huge shortfall in Alexa's cognitive ability," the analyst said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

Google Assistant 'huge advantage'

Windsor's comments come despite recent reports suggesting Amazon's dominance in the voice-controlled speaker arena. A recent study published by eMarketer shows the company has a 70.6 percent market share, and also that number of users of voice-controlled speakers is expected to double to 35.6 million this year.

And in March, RBC suggested that Alexa could bring in $10 billion in revenues by 2020, driven by sales of devices containing the voice assistant, shopping, and cloud computing solutions that Amazon could sell to developers.

TEC--Amazon-New Echo Speaker
Source: Amazon

Windsor said that the Echo Show is unlikely to sell in large numbers with consumers favoring the $50 Echo Dot – a smaller version of the Echo speaker. This means developers are unlikely to create new "skills" or apps for the Echo Show.

"This is where Google Assistant has a huge advantage as it has already been designed to run with a screen (smartphones) meaning that adapting to having a screen on the Google Home product should be much easier and much better," the analyst said.

"We still think that Google Home has the advantage here as it has a much better assistant than Alexa, but its lack of developer support for the smart home is starting to be a real problem. Google really needs to pull its finger out and show developers love, especially as Microsoft looks set to launch something similar to Echo Show but using Cortana."

Alexa as operating system

Other analysts suggest that voice assistants are in the "first innings", meaning it is early days for the technology and Amazon's Alexa is, in fact, taking a lead.

"I'd argue that Amazon is actually, from a technology footprint, years ahead of rivals. If you focus too much on Amazon Echo then you completely miss the bigger picture which is the operating system opportunity of Alexa that goes way beyond Echo," Neil Campling, technology, media and telecoms analyst at Northern Trust Capital Markets, told CNBC by email on Wednesday.

Indeed, Alexa could act like an operating system – similar to what Google's Android is to mobile – to power the Internet of Things (IOT), which refers to millions of internet-connected devices.

"Until now basically everything connected is essentially individually connected rather than harmoniously linked on a unified platform or operating system. And it is voice assistants, or actually the operating system behind them, that can provide that bridge," Campling said in a separate note earlier in the week.

"Even the partnerships, product announcements and technologies it feels to us as if Amazon's Alexa has the chance to do to IOT what Windows did to computing."