Amazon Echo, an Alexa-enabled device

"Alexa, what’s my election update?"

A behind-the-scenes look at Amazon’s approach to expanding Alexa’s knowledge to bring customers relevant, helpful, and timely election information.
on October 31, 2018
There’s no doubt that voice-first experiences are changing how we obtain all sorts of information throughout our day. Customers interact with Alexa billions of times per month, and informational Q&A is one of our most popular features.

Alexa is always getting smarter, and when it comes to expanding Alexa’s knowledge, we take a 360-degree approach while following a set of core tenets to help us build great Q&A experiences for customers:
  1. We federate across various information and knowledge sources. We have hundreds of sources that inform our knowledge graph.
  2. We always adhere to a voice-first experience. Q&A with voice is very different than search on a phone or a desktop, and we focus on answering questions immediately and succinctly.
  3. We’re customer obsessed. We focus on answering topics that customers are asking about the most and subsequently offering high-quality answers.

Customers ask Alexa a lot of questions about major current events and pop culture moments—whether it’s settling a debate at the dinner table, or simply catching up on the latest NFL playoff stats. Over the last couple of years, we’ve worked hard to deliver a robust Q&A experience around the moments that matter to customers.

Customers asked Alexa for score updates millions of times during the Super Bowl, and Alexa answered millions of questions about the FIFA World Cup games this year. And during the Oscars, customers asked Alexa for Oscar winner and nominee updates hundreds of thousands of times during the award show.

We’re now moving into one of the biggest U.S. national news moments of the year – the midterm elections – and we’re preparing for many questions from customers.

Customers asked Alexa millions of questions during the 2016 presidential election and we’ve taken learnings to evolve and expand our elections experience for the midterms.

We believe voice provides a unique, simple, and delightful way to learn about election information, and we want to be as helpful as possible for customers when they’re preparing to vote and to offer real-time updates on polls and election results.
  1. Midterm elections voting and voter education

    Leading up to the election on November 6, we’re offering information about voter registration deadlines, voting options (online, in person, by mail), what times polls open and close, and more. We’ve also teamed up with Ballotpedia – a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital encyclopedia – to offer ballot information.

    Just ask:
    o “Alexa, when are the polls open?”
    o “Alexa, what’s on my ballot?”
    o “Alexa, what does it mean to vote yes (or no) for [state] [ballot measure]”?
    o “Alexa, who is running for Senate in [state]?”
  2. Real-time election results

    For Election Day, we’re teaming up with the Associated Press to provide real-time updates on election results.

    Just ask:
    o “Alexa, what’s my election update?”
    o “Alexa, who is winning in [state]?”
    o “Alexa, how is [candidate] doing in the election?”
  3. Post-election outcomes

    Following the election, customers can get more details on the election outcome.

    Just ask:
    o “Alexa, what happened in the midterm elections?”
    o “Alexa, how many seats did [party] gain?”
    o “Alexa, how did [candidate] do in the election?”
In addition to this voice-first information, we’re also adding some helpful visual graphs on Echo Show devices to accompany many midterm elections answers. For example, when customers ask “Who won the [state] Governor race,” or “How many seats do [party] have in the Senate?” graphs will pop up on their Echo Show device. This is part of our continued investment to serve interesting visuals with every informational request on Alexa.

We face a number of unique challenges to surface these responses for customers, including preparing various question formats and elections topics customers might ask Alexa, formulating natural and conversational responses, and providing locally relevant information for customers.

In addition to advanced AI and algorithm efforts, for every major moment like this, we also bring together a dedicated “war room” of writers, engineers, and data scientists who work together to ensure Alexa is providing customers the most accurate information possible in real-time. By combining our team, the power, and scale of the AWS cloud, and the machine learning technology underpinning Alexa, we hope to bring customers a helpful and engaging experience during this election cycle.

We’re excited to learn from our customers and continue to evolve these types of experiences so we can deliver even more Q&A as we head toward the future primaries and the presidential election.
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