Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told an early Alexa prototype to ‘shoot yourself in the head’ when testing the device at his Seattle home, a new book has revealed.
Bezos tested an early device powered by Alexa at his home in Seattle sometime in 2013 – which engineers recalled making them fear the product was ‘doomed.’
Engineers who worked on the project, referred to as Doppler, heard Bezos’ frustration and thought the project would be scrapped, according to Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone.
‘In pique of frustration over its lack of comprehension, he told Alexa to go ‘shoot yourself in the head’,’ Stone wrote in his book, which was released on Tuesday.
One engineer told Stone: ‘We all thought it might be the end of the project, or at least the end of a few of us at Amazon.’
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company’s first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington
Amazon.com Inc., Senior Vice President David Limp shows voice-controlled Echo and Echo Plus devices announced at an event in the retailer’s headquarters in Seattle in 2017
Amazon smart devices sit on display during an unveiling event at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle on Sept. 20, 2018
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos shares an Instagram photo of an Alexa device paired with a Roomba device at this home
Amazon manager Neil Ackerman, a beta tester for the product in early 2013, said the product would ‘hardly ever give me the right answer.’
‘The music coming out of it was inconsistent and certainly not the family favorites,’ he said.
Parag Gard, an engineer for the Fire TV, said he thought the product was ‘doomed’ and that it ‘didn’t work for s**t and I didn’t miss the thing when it was gone,’ according to the book.
The book also revealed the name of the voice artist behind Alexa, a Boulder-based singer and voice actress named Nina Rolle, as well as an early possible wake-word or name for the product: Samantha, after the character from the TV show Bewitched.
Bezos ultimately suggested the name Alexa – which the book called ‘an homage to the ancient library of Alexandria’ – and the company was able to make the product work before the first version of the device was released in 2014.
The book also provides backstory to the evolution of Project D, the Amazon Echo and its voice assistant Alexa, which was borne from a ‘flurry of brainstorming sessions’ with engineers at Lab126, Amazon’s Silicon Valley subsidiary for research and development.
The Kindle and Kindle Fire tablets were known internally as Project A – while Project B was Amazon’s Fire Phone failure. Project C, called ‘Shimmer,’ was never launched but was a device ‘designed to project hologram-like displays onto a table or ceiling,’ according to the book.
The revelations were made in a new book
Amazon executive Greg Hart told the author that Bezos and him discussed Google’s voice search ability at a Seattle burger joint in 2010, while noting that the Android technology was ‘finally getting good at dictation and search.’
Bezos at the time was extremely interested in growing Amazon’s cloud business – which prompted senior vice president Steve Kessel in 2011 to first suggest creating ‘a $20 device with its brains in the cloud that’s completely controlled by your voice.’
When development for a voice-activated cloud computer began, Bezos ‘unrealistically’ wanted to release the product in six months to a year. Just as the Doppler team was formed, Apple introduced Siri – sending Amazon frantically trying to acquire speech development startups.
Amazon then purchased the companies Ivona, Yap and Evi for a project that was ‘micromanaged by Bezos himself’ as the device initially struggled to launch.
Business Insider reported that, within five years, the company sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa built in and noted that that use of the devices ‘soared during the pandemic’ with people using the product to schedule vaccines.