Amazon talked up its new Whisper Mode back in September, when it outlined how it was able to get the feature to work. What Whisper Mode does is allow Alexa to respond to a whispered command with a whispered response. Why would you need this? One usage scenario would be for people using an Alexa device in a room where others are sleeping, be it a baby or spouse, with less chance of waking them up.
When the feature was announced, Amazon promised it would launch in October; Amazon made good on the promise with today’s launch. Whisper Mode works with U.S. English and is rolling out right now. The feature does have to be enabled before it will work, that can be done via the Alexa App under Settings- Alexa Account – Alexa Voice Responses- Whispered Responses. Since Alexa is a voice-controlled system, you can also just say “Alexa, turn on Whisper Mode.”
Amazon is going beyond Whisper Mode and is working hard to make Alexa aware of context. It has enabled the device to know if a person says, “Play Hunger Games” and the Alexa device has a screen, they want the film. If on the other hand, that command is given to a device that only has audio, it would launch the audiobook. That avoids the user having to answer follow up questions like play the movie or the audiobook.
Amazon has another feature that it talked up at the same time Whisper Mode was announced called Alexa Guard. Alexa Guard is a feature that can recognize the sound of a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, or the sound of breaking glass. Alexa Guard and Whisper Mode both rely on a machine learning network that is called ”long short-term memory.” The process of understanding the command breaks audio, including a spoken word or other audio signals, into very short snippets that the long short-term memory network can process in order.
The network can parse those short signals and make a judgment on if the signal is a whispered command or if it the audio is an alarm it needs to take other action on. Amazon is also working on context carryover; this allows the user to ask a question about weather like “will it rain today?” and Alexa remembers the original question long enough to allow a follow-up question like “What about tomorrow?” to be asked. These improvements allow users to ask natural language questions and get appropriate answers in more traditional conversational exchanges.