Inspired by the computer voice that ran on the starship Enterprise, Amazon Alexa is a voice-controlled virtual personal assistant that’s changing the way we interact with technology.
In 2014 Amazon released the Echo – a smart speaker that connects to the Amazon Alexa Voice Service. It enables users to control their smart home devices, play music, make hands free calls, shop online, provide information, arrange bookings and a whole host of other services. All through the use of voice. The Echo houses several microphones that use beam-forming technology along with incredible noise cancellation that allows the Echo to detect “wake” words in noisy environments.
Wake words activate Alexa to start recording. The Echo then sends those audio clips to the cloud where the request can be interpreted. In addition to “Alexa” the Echo devices also register the words “Echo”, “Amazon” and “Computer” (a friendly nod to Star Trek’s inspiration).
Virtual AI assistants have been steadily gaining popularity among consumers and business. Right now the four main ones are Cortana (Microsoft), Google Assistant, Siri (Apple) and Alexa (Amazon). All have their strengths and weaknesses. Alexa hooks seamlessly into Amazon’s ecosystem making online shopping a delight, while the Google Assistant has the advantage of integrating with G Suite allowing users to access their calendar and emails. If you’re an Apple customer then Homepod uses Siri to access your Apple music and you can send receive messages if your iPhone is on the same wifi. Cortana is more business-oriented and leverages core microsoft products such as Office 365, Outlook.com, LinkedIn and Bing to create seamless workflows.