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Smart Home

Alexa -- and retailers -- want to get to know you better

Software giant Adobe helps Amazon's digital assistant get more personal by employing a whole lot of data.

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The Amazon Echo, Tap and Echo Dot.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Adobe wants to help retailers connect with you through Alexa.

During its annual Adobe Summit on Wednesday, the software giant said it will reveal its early work adding more personalization into Amazon's Alexa, or potentially any other voice assistant. Adobe managed to do that by using the mountains of data it manages for business customers to create Alexa responses that can be specific to each customer.

"This is a new horizon for retail," said Steve Hammond, an Adobe executive focused on cloud computing. "Adobe is looking at, 'How to we create more meaningful experiences in voice?'"

As an example, Hammond described an Amazon Echo in a hotel room that could immediately recognize a customer without him having to log in by using his room number and hotel loyalty account. The customer could then ask Alexa specific questions, like how many rewards points he has with the hotel.

Taking that a step further, Hammond said, Alexa could then recommend ways to spend those points, like at an upcoming live show nearby, or offer the customer a free drink at the lobby bar, sending a coupon to the his phone through the hotel's app.

This idea could be useful at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, which started adding Echos into all its rooms, though Adobe isn't working directly with Wynn on this concept.

This one example, which Adobe developed into a working prototype, offers an early idea of how hotels, restaurants and retailers could develop deeper relationships with their customers using voice assistants.

At best, these kinds of uses could provide people with more information without them even having to pick up a phone or laptop. Companies could benefit, too, by having more control over their connections to their customers, without needing Amazon as a constant gatekeeper. At worst, though, these tools could just turn into ways for companies to serve people unwanted ads or prod at people's privacy.

For now, it's just an idea with no set timeline to go public.

"The interesting thing is not the interaction, because we're all used to doing that. It's what's going on behind the scenes," Hammond said, noting that Alexa could work with a hotel's data to provide better answers for customers.

Adobe is another tech company trying to figure out how to make Alexa, Google Assistant and other digital helpers smarter by giving them more information to crunch. Automated Insights, which makes software that turns raw data into sentences and whole news articles, is working with Amazon to take different data points and turn them into more customized Alexa responses.

With the help of Automated Insights, Nasdaq could feed Alexa its stock market information to let users ask about specific stock movements at any given moment, or TicketMaster could provide a rundown on nearby concerts. Still, Automated Insights' work, too, is in early phases.

These kinds of projects show that in a few years voice assistants may become more contextual and personalized. But that means they may get better at providing you with more information, or just better at delivering commercials.

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