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Amazon Music makes Alexa chattier (but just as dorky)

Alexa's music-discovery flow will now be like a conversation, asking you questions and playing song samples to land on tunes you actually want to hear.

Getting your Amazon Echo to play music you like could get easier, starting Thursday.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon Music is making Alexa more chatty -- but still goofy -- by turning your song commands into more of a conversation. 

The hope?

Less "Alexa, play dinner music. Alexa, actually, play instrumental dinner music. Alexa! Play upbeat instrumental music. Alexa, why are you playing EDM?"

Instead, you'll have a dialogue closer to a normal human interaction, without constantly retriggering Alexa's attention after something starts to play. Amazon's music-streaming service is tweaking the voice assistant by letting Alexa ask follow-up questions when you're hunting for songs and by playing samples before diving in. 

"It's important because it matches human behavior, as simple as that," Kintan Brahmbhatt, director of product for Amazon Music, said Wednesday. "It takes us closer to that magical moment because it's what customers already do naturally."

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When Amazon launched its original Echo smart speaker in 2014, the company struck gold and ushered in a new era of voice computing. It not only put Amazon at the front of the voice-assistant race with Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft, but it also gave Amazon's music-streaming service a plum gig -- working with the most popular smart speaker and one of the most popular voice-command helpers. 

Amazon has already been pushing Alexa to be more conversational, with features like Hunches (which allows Alexa to ask you, for example, if you'd like to turn off the light when you say "Alexa, good night") and multistep requests. But music playback is one of the top uses of Alexa and of Echo speakers, so adding back-and-forth dialogue to music discovery is a meaningful attempt to push Alexa forward. 

The conversational flow for song discovery is aimed at getting you to the music you like in 25 to 30 seconds, Brahmbhatt said. The new chatty music discover is launching Thursday in searches for generic music ("Alexa, play music") and for holiday tunes. Brahmbhatt said the company will use those searches to learn how the chats with Alexa work best before widening the feature. 

You can count on some of Alexa's nonchalant dorkiness sprinkled in. In my demo search for holiday songs, Alexa informed me that "Amazon Music has a ton of merry, merry good playlists."

'Alexa, play music I like'

Amazon Music announced on Thursday two other product tweaks: more-personalized tunes when you ask Alexa to simply "play music" and an upgrade to the assistant's ability to understand what you like and dislike. 

The company is applying a new mix of algorithms to tailor playback more individually to you. It will take into account songs from your personalized playlists, music you have liked or disliked, songs you haven't heard in a while and new tunes from artists you've asked Alexa to follow.

And Alexa is going to be take into account likes and dislikes, both the ones you explicitly state and those you indicate by how you use the service. You can now tell Alexa when you like or dislike any currently playing song, album or playlist, by saying phrases like "Alexa, this is my favorite" or "Alexa, I don't like this." Alexa will also better understand "implied likes," such as most listened-to tracks.

'Alexa, be more human': Inside Amazon's effort to make its voice assistant smarter, chattier and more like you.

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