Alexa might not get much smarter than it is now

“Hey Alexa, can do you deserve what?”

As reported by The Wall Street JournalAmazon strives for save costs by downsizing some of its less profitable divisions. The big one is Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant software. Despite Alexa’s existence in millions of Echo devices and other smart speakers around the world, building, supporting and licensing a voice assistant platform has apparently been less profitable than Amazon had hoped. (According to the WSJthe Alexa company has suffered a loss of $5 billion a year.)

Amazon has a few options here. It can either invest in Alexa and work to add more features, or scale back its efforts to improve the service and keep it as it is. However, as the WSJ taking report notes, most users usually get into the habit of using only a few key voice commands. If so, it may make more sense for Amazon to allow Alexa rather than continue adding more features.

Alexa isn’t the only voice assistant with an uncertain future. Google took a similar step in October, when some of its cost-effective restructuring plan put less emphasis on the program that puts Google Assistant in partner devices such as smart speakers. Both reprioritisations come as companies are laying off thousands of workers across the technosphere. It might not exactly be the end of an era, but it’s clear that the companies aren’t seeing their voice assistants as top priorities when they’re dealing with an economic downturn.

Here’s some more news from the world of consumer technology.

Apple Spaces Out

If you tend to get lost in the woods, Apple wants to let you know that it will help you soon. The company has recently taken a major step in emergency response technology. During the iPhone 14 announcement in September, Apple touted the new ability to locate people out of range of cell phones or Wi-Fi. The service Apple calls Emergency SOS via satellitewill be launched later this month.

Apple has a $450 Million Investment emergency satellite tracking technology. Most of the money will go to the American company Globalstar, which operates the satellites used to transmit the messages. Apple’s SOS plan covers the US and Canada. It’s free for two years if you buy an iPhone 14, although Apple hasn’t said how much it will charge customers afterward.

LG rolls another one

forget about foldable, rollables are where it is. LG continues to improve its rollable display technology with a screen material that you can (eventually) bend, curl and warp as much as you want. This week the South Korean company showed something stretchable display technology which it says can be used to give screens heretofore unrealized flexibility. The stretchable display looks like a 12-inch strip of fruit leather with RGB lighting in it, which can be crossed all kinds of surfaces. 20 percent stretch means it’s not exactly taffy, but LG says it can bend about as much as rubber. That flexibility could lend itself to wrapping screens around just about any surface — clothing, furniture, walls.

Just to be clear: the stretchable sheet is just a prototype. LG is developing the technology for the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The dream of stretchable screens is still a long way off, but LG says it plans to complete the government project by 2024. If all goes well, the stretchable displays can then be implemented in consumer devices.

Dig up mastodon

Since Elon Musk took over, Twitter has been in a sort of free fall. Whether it’s because of the stream of hate speech, the influx of “verified” scammers or the dismantling of ethical teams at the company, advertisers and users alike have fled the platform. Now people are trying to find an alternative to Twitter that doesn’t feel like it’s being turned upside down and shuffled around for loose change. Many people have turned to the decentralized platform Mastodon. So much so that Mastodon collapsed under the weight of all its new users.

This week on WIRED’s gadget lab podcast, WIRED security editor Andrew Couts joins the show to unravel Mastodon — how it works, what the vibe is on the platform, and whether it will ever come close to recreating the controlled chaos that is Twitter (or used to be).

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