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Smart Home

Amazon's Alexa will offer user answers when she's stumped

She's getting phone-a-friend powers.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon's Alexa can answer all sorts of questions, but isn't a know-it-all. Some queries leave the AI helper positively stumped.

Now, the assistant's about to get some assistance -- in the form of user-submitted answers to questions she can't quite handle.

Amazon calls the initiative "Alexa Answers," and it invites select users to provide answers to questions Alexa wasn't able to field. Amazon says it's been testing the method internally for the past month and has added "more than 100,000 responses which have been given to customers millions of times."

Alexa Answers went live on Thursday, but is accessible by invitation only, the e-tailer said on a post to its Day One blog

"The Alexa Answers website allows invited customers to answer questions, asked by other customers, that Alexa currently does not know the answer to," the post said. "After a customer submits the answer, the answer may be given to Alexa customers. Then, when the next customer asks Alexa the question answered by the community, Alexa will have access to that answer and can choose to respond by attributing the response to "an Amazon customer" before providing the answer."

An Amazon spokesperson told me the company is aiming its Alexa Answers invitations at "our most engaged Alexa customers and customer reviewers from Amazon.com." 

I also asked how Amazon plans to vet user-submitted answers for accuracy and appropriateness. The company tells me that automated filters will pull responses with obscene or inappropriate language. Additionally, Alexa customers can up or down vote contributed answers as they hear them. User-submitted responses with too many down votes will get yanked out of Alexa's database.

"High quality answers are important to us, and this is something we take seriously," an Amazon spokesperson says. "It's still day one for this experience - we expect to learn a lot during the invite-only period and will continue to evolve the experience based on customer feedback."

First published Dec. 6, 8:16 a.m. PT
Update, 8:47 a.m. PT: Adds comment and additional information from Amazon.