Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos once got so frustrated with Alexa’s performance he told it to “go shoot yourself in the head”.
According to Brad Stone’s new book Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, released yesterday, the development of Amazon’s now ubiquitous voice assistant was fraught with issues.
Since launching in 2014 more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices have been sold across the world, yet engineers developing the device had thought the technology “doomed” because it “didn’t work for shit.”
The book details how engineers working to create a device which could compete with Apple and Google’s smart assistants heard Bezos shouting at Alexa in a “pique of frustration over its lack of comprehension”.
It also explains the unconventional methods Amazon went to in order to ensure developers had enough data to launch a fully-fledged virtual assistant.
Amazon rented a number of apartments and houses in Boston and Seattle in which staff or temp workers would be asked to read a “bizarre script” so a wide array of voices and speech patterns could be captured.
As the project, then called ‘Doppler’, was a closely guarded secret staff were not told what was going on, and reportedly often simply “refused to participate” due to the situation’s absurdity.
According to an extract from the book published in Wired, the “constant flood of random people” led to further issues.
“In one instance, a resident of a Boston condo complex suspected a drug-dealing or prostitution ring was next door and called the cops, who asked to enter the apartment,” Stone wrote.
“The nervous staff gave them an elusive explanation and a tour and afterward hastily shut down the site.
“One Amazon employee who was annotating transcripts later recalled hearing a temp worker interrupt a session and whisper to whoever he suspected was listening: ‘This is so dumb. The company behind this should be embarrassed!’”
The book has also exposed the voice actor who provided Alexa’s voice as Nina Rolle, a Colorado based voiceover artist, for the first time.