Today in the Connected Economy: Amazon Gives Alexa a Promotion

Amazon Alexa on smartphone

Today in the Connected Economy, Amazon looks ahead with Alexa, Candymaker Mars joins the NFT parade, a pair of senators reintroduce the Payment Choice Act and ByteDance reports a mobile game player spending increase.

Amazon Promotes Alexa to Companion From Simple Servant’s Role

Amazon engineers think the company’s Alexa system needs to begin thinking for itself.

News out of this week’s re:MARS event in Las Vegas centered around the possible next step for the voice-commanded system, especially the work of Rohit Prasad, Alexa AI senior vice president and head scientist, who is working with his team on moving from rote Alexa skills to more interactive forms like conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

Although he said Alexa was “one of the most complex applications of AI in the world,” Prasad wrote in a blog post that “our customers demand even more from Alexa as their personal assistant, adviser and companion.”

“To continue to meet customer expectations, Alexa can’t just be a collection of special-purpose AI modules,” Prasad wrote. “Instead, it needs to be able to learn on its own and to generalize what it learns to new contexts.”

Mars Wants to Turn M&Ms into NFTs

Candymaker Mars Inc. has filed for a non-fungible token (NFT) trademark for its popular M&M brand, the latest in a series of examples of food companies trying to introduce their products to the metaverse.

The application reportedly covers M&M-related NFTs and digital tokens, virtual candy, and snacks, as well as trademarks on software for authenticating, storing, and transmitting non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital currencies and tokens, and crypto collectibles.

The news comes weeks after Kraft Foods applied to trademark a number of digital assets for seven of its food brands: Kraft, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Velveeta, Lunchables, Oscar Mayer and Philadelphia.

Senators Reintroduce Bill to Preserve Freedom of Payment Choice

U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) have reintroduced the Payment Choice Act, a bill they first put forward last year and that is aimed at giving consumers the freedom to choose how they pay for goods and services.

“With the increased use of electronic and contactless methods of payment and many businesses refusing cash, consumers without access to financial services face a disproportionate burden,” the senators said in a joint press release.

They add that the act “would prohibit retail businesses from refusing to accept cash as a form of payment and charging a higher price for using cash than for other forms of payment.”

ByteDance Generates $1B in Mobile Game Player Spending in Past Year

ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, saw $1 billion in mobile game player spending in the past year, a 16% increase.

This spending data includes numbers from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, but not third-party Android stores in China.

In 2021, ByteDance acquired gaming studios Moonton and C4, and with them popular overseas games like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, which generated $317.7 million, accounting for 32% of the $1 billion figure.

Zomato Buying Grocery Delivery Startup Blinkit for $568M

Indian food delivery firm Zomato is buying local grocery delivery startup Blinkit in a 44.47 billion rupees ($568.2 million) all-stock deal to expand its capabilities in the space as the competition becomes more fierce.

Zomato came close to purchasing nearly 10% of Blinkit last year for $66.2 million and said earlier this year it wanted to invest up to $400 million in the Indian quick commerce space in the next two years.

Blinkit’s gross order value in May stood at 4.03 billion rupees (about $51 million), Zomato told its shareholders in a letter.