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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Arms-on with Amazon’s new AI-powered Hearth TV search

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Navigating the sheer quantity of streaming content material accessible at the moment is usually a full-time job. Suggestions from mates, weblog posts, and TikToks of films I haven’t thought of in years all assist. However discovering one thing myself, my husband, my 13-year-old daughter, and my 16-year-old son all need to watch collectively remains to be a herculean job.

So, when Amazon introduced its new AI-powered voice search function for Fire TVs at its fall event last year, I used to be intrigued. With its promise to make trying to find content material simpler and smarter, I hoped it will be the answer to my issues. I’ve now had some hands-on time with the brand new function, and whereas it reveals promise, like plenty of AI-powered search proper now, it’s simply not dependable sufficient to be all that helpful.

The fundamental thought is that you should use extra pure language to ask Alexa to seek out you one thing to observe. Whether or not you may have a present in thoughts however can’t keep in mind the identify otherwise you’re unsure what you’re within the temper for, faucet the Alexa button on the Hearth TV distant and ask questions like, “What’s that present about cash laundering set within the mountains?” or “Present me British crime dramas with feminine leads,” and the voice assistant ought to assist you determine it out. It’s the AI equal of flipping via the channels, solely Alexa is doing the flipping for you.

That is all being powered by a brand new Amazon-built massive language mannequin (LLM) designed to floor film and TV present content material utilizing pure language inputs. It’s beginning to roll out to eligible Hearth TV gadgets operating Hearth OS 6 or greater at the moment. At launch, it’s able to find content material primarily based on issues like matter, style, plot factors, actors, and quotes due to being skilled on knowledge from companies like IMDb.

Amazon’s Joshua Park, senior supervisor of product for Hearth TV, demoed AI search to me at Amazon’s Day 1 HQ in Seattle earlier this month. He confirmed me a number of queries, together with: “Present me the film the place Tom Hanks is a pilot and has to land on the Hudson” (Sully); “What’s the TV present that mentions Szechuan sauce from McDonald’s?” (Rick and Morty); and “Present me the character documentary that was narrated by Obama” (Our Nice Nationwide Parks). Alexa did a superb job with all of those — however whereas it’s neat, it’s all stuff I can Google on my cellphone whereas sitting on the sofa. 

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Amazon does add useful context to the outcomes, together with displaying you which ones apps you may have that may stream the present and whether or not it’s free to you. However what I need from a extra clever search service just isn’t one thing to jog my reminiscence however one thing good sufficient to seek out me one thing good to observe. I need it to make use of its huge dataset to sift via the cruft and discover me the standard stuff. I need it to be that old-school video retailer clerk from my youth. 

The brand new Hearth TV search can discover content material primarily based on prompts like “Alexa, present me films about canine and human friendships.” 
Picture: Amazon

When Daniel Rausch, VP of Alexa and Hearth TV, demoed the search function onstage at Amazon’s fall occasion final 12 months, that’s actually what he promised, saying utilizing the function is “like talking to an ideal buddy who’s additionally the world’s finest video retailer clerk.”

His demo concerned a much more succesful Alexa than the one I noticed in Seattle. He requested Alexa to “discover some motion films for me” after which was capable of proceed speaking to the assistant to winnow it all the way down to films he wouldn’t must pay for, these he hadn’t seen but (or at the very least weren’t in his Hearth TV watch historical past), ones that had been good for his youngsters, after which lastly ask it a context cue: “We like video video games, which one ought to we go for?” It recommended Scott Pilgrim. Now that may be very helpful. 

I may chat conversationally with Alexa, together with pauses and ums and ers, and it (largely) understood what I requested

Park tells me that type of in-depth, conversational forwards and backwards is deliberate for future updates. In my time making an attempt out the present capabilities, I wasn’t capable of get it to transcend two queries earlier than it began to crumble. It additionally struggled to supply up greater than a pair appropriate solutions for broader queries like “Present me Oscar-winning films from the Nineteen Seventies.”

“It’s definitely day one for us,” defined Park once I requested about these limits. “We positively have a view of what we have to do to enhance it, in order that it doesn’t matter what the client asks, we’re capable of finding the proper content material for them.”

What it does do properly is enhance on the present state of Alexa voice search, which — like most voice instructions — requires particular nomenclature to floor the proper outcomes. With the brand new Hearth TV search, I may chat conversationally with Alexa, together with pauses and ums and ers, and it (largely) understood what I requested. 

However I used to be largely dissatisfied within the outcomes. To see if it may assist with my household’s viewing state of affairs, I recommended the immediate “Present me some darkish comedies with violence.” (I like romantic comedies, and my husband loves horror films.) It provided up Heathers, American Psycho, Pulp Fiction, and Barbie. Moreover Barbie being completely out of left area, the others had been throughout 20 years {old}. Not useful.

Subsequent, I attempted one thing way more particular. We like to seek out collection we will binge-watch collectively, so I requested, “Present me TV collection with greater than six episodes which might be extremely rated.” It recommended two reveals, each anime. One was rated a 9 out of 10 however the different was a 5 out of 10. Even for an avid anime fan, that isn’t an ideal outcome. 

At this level, I made a decision to go for what I believed can be a softball query. The type of factor I might need requested that video retailer clerk: “Present me one thing good to observe.” The outcomes had been… weird. Its first suggestion was Miss Marple (a basic British detective present that I do truly love however may be very {old}), however its second and third choices had been The Curious Feminine and Tremendous Vixens, which not solely look like ’70s soft-core porn however have very poor scores on IMDB.

Sure, it’s nonetheless early days certainly. Amazon spokesperson Ashley Aruda did attain out after I revealed this to say the problems I skilled round “search outcome relevancy” throughout my demo have been addressed. She famous that the model I examined was not the one which shipped to clients at the moment.

I examined the AI search on Could third, about three weeks in the past, on a Hearth Stick at Amazon’s HQ. I did get the replace on my Hearth Stick this morning, so was capable of repeat the “one thing good to observe” question. I’m pleased to say there was no signal of curious females. As an alternative, Alexa recommended Dune: Half Two, Shōgun and Sugar. So, it appears like I may be set for my weekend viewing.

Up to date Could thirtieth: Added that Amazon reached out after publication to notice that I examined an earlier model of the search function, not the one delivery to customers at the moment, and that the corporate is optimistic the problems I skilled have been resolved.

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