Amazon has added a new feature for its Alexa voice assistant that you will let you make successive requests without needing to repeat your Echo speaker’s wake word, as noted today by CNET. Amazon is calling the new setting “follow-up mode,” and while it won’t let you nest one request into another, it will let you ask make multiple requests back to back. For instance, you won’t be able to ask Alexa to turn off the lights and change the temperature in the same breath, but you can make one request and follow it up with the other without needing to say “Alexa” again.
Follow-up mode works by letting Alexa continue listening for up to five seconds after an initial command. This is signified by the blue ring on an Echo speaker or other Echo device staying lit up. Once the blue light fades, Alexa is officially back into sleep mode and must be woken up with a phrase like “Hey, Alexa” or whatever you’ve set your custom wake word or phrase to. There are some interesting kinks here that Amazon may have to iron out. For instance, this follow-up mode only works when Alexa is “confident” the second command is not just background noise from a conversation or a program on TV.
It’s not clear exactly how that works, but it’s probably safe to say that this feature may not work all of the time at first, or it may register some false positives from a Netflix show in the beginning until Amazon refines follow-up mode over time. In an interesting twist, Amazon says that one way to forcibly put Alexa back to sleep is to use the words “thank you” or “stop” to conclude a string of commands, which may perhaps make our conversations with digital voice assistants more congenial in nature. Already, there’s some debate as to the best way to converse with voice-based AI software, and Amazon, Google, and others have a lot of power in this respect to design the interfaces of these devices to facilitate certain user behaviors.
According to CNET, the follow-up mode setting is opt-in and is available for all devices in the Echo lineup, as well as some third-party Echo devices. Follow-up mode is also only available in English at the moment, and only works when Alexa isn’t being used for another persistent activity like listening to music or an audiobook.