Amazon Echo and Alexa – The Bots are Here to Stay!
In these days of artificial intelligence (AI) virtual, or digital, assistants are all the rage – iPhone has Siri, Microsoft the annoying Cortana, and Alexa has been Amazon’s assistant since 2014.
But who is she?
A virtual assistant is an application program that can understand voice commands, and performs tasks, or answer questions, for the user. Often this is coupled with specialized hardware, such a speaker, or digital wristwatch.
In the case of Amazon Alexa, the hardware is the Echo smart speaker, and the two are intrinsically linked.
So, what is Echo?
Amazon Echo is a cylindrical Bluetooth speaker with the type of blue neon lights Darth Vader would be proud of, as it sits brooding on your shelf. With built in multidirectional speakers for playing amazing quality audio sound, Echo also has voice recognition capabilities. Using WiFi, it is constantly connected, just waiting to wake up and flash those scrolling blue lights on your command, and that’s where Alexa comes in.
Okay, so once the Echo has yawned and stretched into wakefulness, Alexa, forever bright and breezy, is there as its Voice Service.
What can Alexa do?
The promises made by Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa are vast, and it’s difficult to know how to make full use of her talents, other than:
“Alexa, please play the latest single by Beyonce” or “Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for tomorrow”.
However, she has more than 25,000 skills just waiting to be used. Skills are features made by third-party developers that help Alexa do more than just the Amazon-sanctioned basics, and many of them integrate with other services, apps, and products. Before she can use it, the skill must be enabled from your Amazon account, or mobile app, but once that’s done, away you go!
The media section of Alexa is a gateway to your own piece of heaven, with books, music, movies all waiting for you to access them, and it doesn’t have to be Amazon controlled media either. Spotify, radio and news stations, Kindle and more.
She can call anyone on your contacts list, or send messages:
“Alexa, please message Debbie and let her know I’m running late”
Shopping, too, is a doddle for Alexa, and she can just merrily order through your Amazon account – from batteries to spatulas, there is no end to her talents. Anything you, being mere human, forget to buy, she, of course, can efficiently add it to her list for next time; Mary Poppins, eat your heart out!
Depending on the type of car you drive, the fabulous Alexa may even be able to turn on the engine, put the headlights on, or tell you how much gas is in the tank. And just to make you feel extra unnecessary, Alexa can turn on your heating, lights, rustle up a quick moussaka, and put the children to bed (we may have lied about the dinner).
She will even tell you some proper dad jokes or come up with amusing answers to questions about herself, Game of Thrones and the meaning of life.
Seriously, is there anything this ever smiling and benevolent Goddess of the Technical Realm cannot do? Please don’t answer that!
Some consumers have expressed privacy concerns about Alexa, because she requires large amounts of personal data and is always ‘listening’ in order to respond to voice commands. She also retains voice interactions and personal information to improve your experience. However, virtual assistant providers, including Amazon, also maintain privacy policies, which define how each company uses and shares personal information. Companies do not share customer-identifiable information without a customer’s consent.
So, that is that – from Amazon Echo to Alexa’s prowess as a virtual assistant. Some of us feel, however, that we should point out that now Google have introduced the idea of ‘male’ virtual assistants, Amazon should keep up. This isn’t the place for a discussion on gender stereotypes, but some of us are uncomfortable with the image of women that Amazon are portraying with Alexa.
Right, there you go -Echo and Alexa; oh, I nearly forgot…..
“Alexa, can you run the vacuum cleaner around and make me a coffee”