Alexa’s new feature will help break up holiday fights

Natalie O’Neill,
Alexa, help prevent a Christmas blowout!

The Amazon virtual assistant has a new feature meant to help families quit bickering during the holidays — by changing the subject that everyone is talking about, according to a report Wednesday.

Research by the firm found that relatives are most prone to arguments at 6:30 p.m. December 25, so it programmed the gadget to jump in with questions that will spark less heated conversation, according to

When prompted, it will ask safe questions such as, “What would your superpower be and why?” and “Is ‘Die Hard’ a Christmas movie?,” according to the report.

The robot peacemaker is also programmed to bring up inoffensive topics ranging from celebrity crushes to baked goods.

To prompt the so-called “distraction technique,” simply say, “Alexa, change the subject!”

Money is the number one issue families fight about over the holidays — followed closely by what to watch on television, and being a sore loser during a Christmas game, according to a survey conducted by Amazon.

The arguments are most likely to break out between siblings or with mothers, according to the research.

The subject-changing feature is available on any device that has the Alexa voice assistant, including iPhone and Android.
Wi-Fi control
If users want to control certain Wi-Fi settings, they may use Alexa and certain brands of router, to control Wi-Fi access. That means you could say things like, “Alexa, pause the Wi-Fi on Bryan’s PlayStation,” or, “Alexa, pause the Wi-Fi on the tablet.”

Alexa Hunches
Although Hunches has been announced before, Amazon will be launching this feature now. If users tend to perform certain actions together — for instance, locking the door and turning off the lights — Alexa will begin to prompt the second action when you request the first.

Alexa Guard upgrades
Alexa Guard, which listens for window breaks and alarms, is expanding. The customer can use more complex routines now, saying something like, “Alexa, I’m off to work.” This will not only arm Alexa Guard, but also trigger other commands, such as turning off the lights. In addition, Alexa Guard will begin listening not only for breaking glass and alarms, but also for human activity while you’re out of the house. That means the Echo should be able to tell the difference between your cat padding around the apartment and an intruder sneaking around.

Alexa Communications for Kids and Free Time
Communications for Kids will allow children to communicate with contacts preapproved by parents. Free Time on Echo Show will give kids access to games and other activities, as well as the above Communications for Kids.

Frustration Detection
If Alexa senses frustration in the user’s voice — for instance, if she plays the wrong song after a request — she will apologize and attempt to clarify and recover.

Food Network features
Alexa will now be able to help users cook meals via a Food Network collaboration. Customers will be able to access recipes and take cooking classes on Echo Show ($170 at Amazon) devices. This will come with commands like, “Alexa, show cooking classes from Bobby Flay,” “Alexa, how many chicken thighs was I supposed to use?” and “Alexa, save that recipe.”

Celebrity voices
Beginning later this year, Amazon will be rolling out celebrity voices for Alexa. It appears the “voices” will actually be partially generated based on limited recordings with the celebrities, so how effective the feature is remains to be seen.

First up on the docket? Samuel L. Jackson.

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