The other day, Alexa asked me a question that I thought was really valuable. After turning off the lights, Alexa let me know that my door was unlocked as well and asked if I wanted it locked. Usually, I lock the door after letting my dog out, but this time I forgot. Alexa didn’t. This feature, called Alexa Hunches, is pretty new. Alexa Hunches hasn’t made waves yet, but I’m really excited to see more of it. It’s our first real glimpse of what Voice Assistants will become in the next few years.
Intro to Alexa Hunches
If you ever wanted to see a glimpse of the future, look no further than Alexa Hunches. Alexa makes suggestions to you using patterns from your usage history. At a high level, this is done by recording things, like what commands you sent to Alexa and what states your smart devices are in. Alexa looks for patterns in that data, like me turning off the lights and locking the door every day. And if the pattern changes at all, Alexa lets you know and offers to correct it.
Alexa Hunches were first mentioned in 2018. On the Alexa Blog, this is what Amazon initially had to say:
“So now when you say “Alexa, set an alarm” or “Alexa, good night” – and millions of customers do this – every once in a while, Alexa will have a hunch – you left your lights on, your back door is unlocked. We’re just getting started. Like all things, this feature will get better and smarter over time.”
The initial version of this feature is very simple and is mainly only connected to smart lights and smart locks. But the good news is Amazon is still improving the feature. For instance, last year it got a few more updates. In addition to checking if your smart devices are in the wrong state, Alexa will also let you know when batteries are running low—although sometimes Alexa can send you really annoying notifications if you aren’t careful. Alexa will also suggest routines that can combine multiple requests together that you do regularly.
What else can Hunches do?
It also seems Alexa Hunches can do a bit more than what Amazon highlighted in its blog. For example, you can receive Hunches for Smart Lights, Smart Locks, Smart Plugs, and Smart Switches now. So in other words, Alexa records your usage patterns for the most common smart devices out there and lets you know when things seem off.
Apparently, Alexa can also give Hunches outside of Home Automation and Routines, although it’s unclear how many of these exist. For instance, if you ask a question that has an inverse, Alexa may ask if you want that answer, too. An example would be when you ask “what time is sunset,” Alexa follows up to see if you also want to know when sunrise is.
Using Alexa Hunches
Enabling Alexa Hunches is pretty straightforward. You can use the Alexa App or a voice command.
With the Alexa App
You can turn Alexa Hutches on or off from the Alexa App. Here’s how you find it:
- Tap Settings
- Scroll all the way down to Hunches
- From here, you can disable and enable the feature
The Alexa App also includes a great overview of what Alexa Hunches are. Here’s what the descriptions say:
Alexa supports two commands related to Alexa Hunches:
- “Alexa, do I have any Hunches?”
This command queries Alexa for any Hunches that might be waiting for you to hear. This is a cool way to check if the feature is working and offering anything to you. For instance, when I ask this question, Alexa tells me about the unlocked door and asks if I want to lock it.
- “Alexa, enable/disable Hunches”
This command lets you toggle Alexa Hunches on or off. If you find the idea creepy of Alexa recording your behavior patterns, simply use this command to turn off Alexa Hunches.
The Future of Voice Assistants
If there’s one feature that gives us a glimpse of what Voice Assistants will evolve into, Alexa Hunches is it. This feature alone has the potential to move Voice Assistants forward in a massive way—and I’m eager to see where Amazon takes this feature next.
To better understand the reason for my excitement, let me first explain the general conversation flow of Alexa. These days, Voice Assistants are stuck in simple interaction patterns, with most interactions looking something like this:
Essentially, you start the interaction with Alexa, not the other way around. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like Alexa’s Notification system, but this general pattern explains most interactions with Voice Assistants today.
This pattern puts a limit on how much a Voice Assistant can really assist you. For instance, it doesn’t give the Voice Assistant any opportunities to interact with you without you first initiating it.
Letting Voice Assistants start the conversation
Wouldn’t it be great if a Voice Assistant was truly your assistant? A real assistant doesn’t only respond when spoken to. Instead, a real assistant proactively lets you know when things happen and proactively reminds you of things that need to be done.
Think of the 2013 movie Her—or at least the beginning of it. Samantha is the Voice Assistant that intuitively knows the needs of the main character, Theodore. She not only answers to Theodore’s requests, but also proactively asks and carries out tasks that he actually wants done but didn’t ask of her yet. Now you may be wondering, how can a Voice Assistant, like Alexa, be more like a real assistant or like this idealized version of one in the movie? Or better question, how can we get Voice Assistants to engage with us on something that’s actually useful?
I believe there are two ways for Amazon to start moving in the right direction. First, let Alexa start the conversation. Alexa’s notifications are a step in this direction, without having Alexa randomly start speaking to you.
Second, when Alexa interrupts you, Alexa needs to have something to say that you actually want to hear. Alexa Hunches are this next step. The feature provides useful information that’s worth interrupting you for—like with the above example of Alexa asking me if I want my door locked.
But Amazon is walking a fine line at this point. On one hand, Alexa must find interruptions that will provide real value to you and that also builds your trust in her intuitive abilities. But on the other hand, if you get interrupted too many times without any useful information, you’re going to fire your assistant—or in this case, not use Alexa. To that end, it’s important for Amazon to make sure interruptions are in fact useful, which is why Alexa Hunches are being rolled out slowly.
From toy to necessity
Today, Alexa Hunches are about simple interruptions that are attached to the normal interaction cycle. Instead of Alexa proactively sending you a notification, the Voice Assistant opts to tag the new information—or Hunch—onto a request that you first initiate with Alexa. That way if the information isn’t too useful, it’s not as much of an interruption for you since you were already interacting with Alexa.
Eventually, this feature will become some sort of notification that does proactively interrupt you once Amazon is confident that notifications are useful and not annoying. Combine that thinking with new types of interruptions that aren’t Smart Home specific, and we’ll see Alexa slowly turn into a real assistant that you can rely on. An assistant that correctly anticipates your wants and proactively addresses them—that’s where Amazon is taking Alexa.
Wants some more Alexa goodness? Find out more in the Alexa section.