New ‘Adaptive Volume’ Feature Will Let Alexa Scream to Be Heard

New ‘Adaptive Volume’ Feature Will Let Alexa Scream to Be Heard
Photo: GRANT HINDSLEY / Contributor, Getty Images

Like so many of us, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant just wants to be heard and understood, but is often drowned out by the discordant cacophony of 21st century life. But no longer: Amazon is reportedly rolling out a new adaptive volume feature that will allow Alexa to respond more loudly if you happen to be in a noisy environment.

According to The Verge, which first reported the news on Wednesday, the adaptive volume feature was designed to ensure that Alexa can be heard over any of the fairly standard background noises we tend to encounter in our everyday home lives, including screaming children, roaring dishwashers or music playing from other devices. Currently available to customers in the U.S. only, the feature can be activated by saying, “Alexa, turn on adaptive volume.”

The feature’s release follows the rollouts of Alexa Brief and Whisper Mode in March, both of which reduce the volume and length of the voice assistant’s responses in case you have, say, a sleeping baby in the house, or maybe just don’t want to have a speaker scream at you every time you ask it what the weather will be like tomorrow. Separate from the new adaptive volume feature, whisper mode can be activated in a similar fashion by asking Alexa to “turn on whisper mode.”

Adaptive volume will mean that, yet again, Alexa is getting smarter, and a smarter Alexa is likely troubling news for anyone who was already concerned about the device’s penchant to begin recording users’ conversations as soon as someone triggers an Echo’s voice activation by saying Alexa’s name out loud like a tiny tech Beetlejuice.

As Amazon itself once said, “Alexa and Echo devices are designed to record as little audio as possible and minimise the amount of background noise streamed to the cloud.” But an Alexa that is better than ever at parsing background noise is ultimately better at hearing your conversations over the commotion of everyday life, which bolsters the trove of data Amazon is able to amass with its most obvious surveillance mechanism.