Amazon‘s Alexa may be about to get smarter. According to a report from Time, the online retailer is working on voice identification software for Alexa that would allow the service to identify who in a household is speaking to it. “People familiar with Amazon’s Alexa strategy” claim this feature has been under development since 2015, and the challenge now is in strategically integrating it into Alexa devices like Amazon Echo.
The report claims that the feature is internally called Voice ID, and it would match a person’s voice to a prerecorded “voice print” to identify who is talking. The primary account holder could limit specific actions to only those matching a specific voice print. For example, any voice-made purchases could be limited to parents in a household so children don’t go on voice-enabled shopping sprees.
Alexa and other voice assistants including Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana all essentially do the same thing: they respond to voice commands and can answer questions like “How’s the weather?” or “What’s on my calendar today?” However, none can decipher who is doing the talking—and in homes where a device is linked to multiple accounts, that could become problematic. Amazon Alexa can already swatch between different user accounts, but the speaker must say “Switch accounts” or use the Alexa app to do so.
If voice identification comes to Alexa, it would make Amazon’s voice assistant the only major assistant to have such a feature. But that wouldn’t be surprising. Alexa was the first home-based assistant available and is arguably the most developed of all the options. Apple has yet to place Siri in a home speaker, and we only saw a glimpse of a forthcoming Cortana-based speaker from Microsoft at the end of the last year. Google’s Home is currently the biggest challenger to Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, and if Alexa does get voice identification eventually, Google will likely want to add that feature on its speaker. More seamless access to personal accounts via Alexa will make it easier to make your own to-do lists and purchases, but Google Home would also benefit greatly from this feature to keep things like e-mail and calendars for individual users in check.
Alexa recently hit a milestone of 10,000 skills, or third-party features that are accessible via specialized Alexa voice commands. Companies including Starbucks, Uber, and the BBC have skills you can control via Alexa, but like apps in a crowded app store, it takes some sifting through the Skills store in the Alexa app to find the truly useful ones. While it appears Amazon has most of the technology to integrate voice identification into Alexa, there’s no timeline for when we could see this feature debut on Echo and other Alexa devices.