Not spending enough on Amazon already? Its new AI chatbot is here to help

If there's one tech innovation that our bank accounts didn't need in 2024, it's an Amazon chatbot with infinite knowledge of the site's array of potential impulse buys. But unfortunately for our savings, that's exactly what we've just been given in the form of Rufus.

Amazon says its Rufus chatbot has now launched in the US in beta form to “a small subset of customers” who use its mobile app, but that it'll “progressively roll out to additional US customers in the coming weeks”. Rufus is apparently “an expert shopping assistant” who's been trained on Amazon's product catalog and will help answer your questions in a conversational way.

Rather than Googling for extra advice on the differences between trail and road running shoes, the idea is that you can instead search for pointers in the Amazon app and Rufus will pop up with the answers. 

Quite how good those answers are remains to be seen, as Amazon says they come from “a combination of extensive product catalog, customer reviews, community Q&As, and information from across the web”. Considering the variable quality of Amazon's reviews, and the tendency of AI chatbots to hallucinate, you may still want to cross-reference your research with some external sources. 

Still, it's an early glimpse at the future of shopping, with retailers looking to arm you with all of the information you need so you can, well, spend more money with them. Amazon says that the questions can be as broad as “what are good gifts for Valentine’s Day?”, but also as specific as “is this cordless drill easy to hold?” if you're on a product page.

How to find and use Rufus

Right now, Rufus is only being made available to “select customers when they next update their Amazon Shopping app”. But if you live in the US and are keen to take it for a spin, it's worth updating your iOS or Android app to see if you're one of the early chosen ones.

If you are, the bar at the top of the app should now say “search or ask a question”. That's where you can fire conversational questions at Rufus, like “what to consider when buying headphones?”, or prompts like “best dinosaur toys for a 5-year-old“ or “I want to start an indoor garden”.

The ability to ask specific questions about products on their product pages also sounds handy, although this will effectively only be a summary of the page's Q&As and reviews. Given our experience with AI shopping chatbots so far, we'd be reluctant to take everything at face value without double-checking with another source.

Still, with Rufus getting a wider US rollout in “the coming weeks”, it is a pretty major change to the Amazon app – and could change how we shop with the retail giant. Amazon will no doubt be hoping it convinces us to spend more – maybe we need two chatbots, with the other one warning us about our overdraft.

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Apple is secretly spending big on its ChatGPT rival to reinvent Siri and AppleCare

Apple is apparently going hard on developing AI, according to a new report that says it’s investing millions of dollars every day in multiple AI projects to rival the likes of ChatGPT.

According to those in the know (via The Verge, citing a paywalled report at The Information), Apple has teams working on conversational AI (read: chatbots), image-generating AIs, and 'multimodel AI' which would be a hybrid of the others – being able to create video, images and text responses to queries.

These AI models would have a variety of uses, including supporting Apple Care users as well as boosting Siri’s capabilities.

Currently, the most sophisticated large language model (LLM) Apple has produced is known as Ajax GPT. It’s reportedly been trained on over 200 billion parameters, and is claimed to be more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-3.5; this was what ChatGPT used when it first became available to the general public in 2022, though Open AI has since updated its service to GPT-4.

As with all rumors, we should take these reports with a pinch of salt. For now, Apple is remaining tight-lipped about its AI plans, and much like we saw with its Vision Pro VR headset plans, it won’t reveal anything official until it’s ready – if it even has anything to reveal.

The idea of Apple developing its own alternative to ChatGPT isn’t exactly far-fetched though – everyone and their dog in the tech space is working on AI at the moment, with Google, Microsoft, X (formerly Twitter), and Meta just a few of those with public AI aspirations.

Close-up of the Siri interface

Siri can reportedly expect a few upgrades, but when? (Image credit: Shutterstock / Tada Images)

Don't expect to see Apple AI soon

We should bear in mind that polish is everything for Apple; it doesn't release new products until it feels its got everything right, and chatbots are notoriously the antithesis of this philosophy. So much so that AI developers have a term – 'to hallucinate' – to describe when AI chatbots are incorrect, incoherent, or make information up, because they do it embarrassingly frequently. Even ChatGPT and the best ChatGPT alternatives are prone to hallucinating multiple times in a session, and even when you aren’t purposefully trying to befuddle them.

We wouldn’t be too surprised if some Apple bots started to trickle out soon, though – even as early as next month. Something like its Apple Care AI assistant would presumably have a fairly simple task of matching up user complaints with a set of common troubleshooting solutions, patching you through to a human or sending you to a real-world Apple store if it gets stumped. But something like its Ajax GPT? We’ll be lucky to see it in 2024; at least not without training wheels.

If given as much freedom as ChatGPT, Ajax could embarrass Apple and erode our  perception of the brand for delivering finely-tuned and glitch-free products out of the box. The only way we'll see Ajax soon is if AI takes a serious leap forward in terms of reliability – which is unlikely to happen quickly – or if Apple puts a boatload of limitations on its AI to ensure that it avoids making errors or wading into controversial topics. This chatbot would likely still be fine, but depending on how restricted it is, Ajax may struggle to be taken seriously as a ChatGPT rival.

Given that Apple has an event on September 12 – the Apple September event, at which we're expecting it to reveal the iPhone 15 handsets, among other products – there’s a slim chance we could hear something about its AI soon. But we wouldn’t recommend holding your breath for anything more than a few Siri updates.

Instead, we’d recommend keeping your eye on WWDC over the next few years (the company’s annual developer’s conference) to find out what AI chatbot plans Apple has up its sleeves. Just don’t be disappointed if we’re waiting until 2025 or beyond for an official update.

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