Alexa: A 101

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Named after the legendary ancient library of Alexandria, Alexa is Amazon’s version of the virtual assistant, very much like the Apple’s Siri. This voice control system is built into devices like the Echo, which is basically a speaker with a microphone. With Alexa, you have the opportunity to create shopping and to-do lists, search the internet, get current news updates, shop online and control smart home products with a simple voice command. There are many manufacturers that are working hand in hand with Amazon to include Alexa in devices such as TVs, lamps, phones, thermostats, and refrigerators.

Alexa turns Echo into your own personal assistant that will respond to most simple voice commands by simply saying the trigger word (either Echo, Alexa, Computer, or Amazon), followed by the command you want it to perform. Unlike Apple’s Siri, which is a phone-based voice assistant, Alexa feels more natural as you just have to say your commands while doing something else. It’s much easier to look in the refrigerator and tell Alexa what you need than having to pull out your phone to make a list.

Why get Alexa?

Although Echo is great for playing music, you can get better speakers for less money. The true benefit of Echo is the Alexa voice control system. As our lives become ever more intertwined with technology, Alexa is a game changer that will not only make your life easier, but frees you from staring at a phone all day. If you thought it was great being able to control the TV or light switch with your phone, then you’re going to love what Alexa can do for you.

Alexa is great for those who want to turn their house into a smart home. With this amazing virtual assistant, you can control all the connected devices in your home with a simple voice command. Of course, your smartphone can also control all these devices, but you’d have to take out your phone, launch the app, and then ask it to perform the task. Not that this task is difficult but when you walk into your home with your arms full of groceries, it’s much easier to ask Alexa to turn on the lights compared to having to fumble around for your phone in the dark, find the app, open it, and then tap the ‘lights’ icon.

Although Alexa and the concept of a virtual assistant are only a few years old and continuing to improve every day, it already performs an impressive number of tasks. Alexa can connect to Wikipedia to answer basic questions, find your favorite music, help with school work, create lists for shopping, and even purchase items online for you.

Alexa can do a lot, but you shouldn’t mistake it for a complete smart-home system. It is not yet advanced enough to allow complicated integrations of several devices at once. However, the major smart-home hubs, such as Wink, SmartThings, and Insteon, are compatible with Alexa and together they can make your life much more convenient.

How does Alexa work?

As one of the best natural-language processing systems on the market, you rarely have to ask Alexa twice in order to get your question answered or task performed. Systems like the Dot and Echo feature seven extremely sensitive built-in microphones that are always listening and ready to respond. When you use the default wake word, which was discussed earlier, your command will automatically be transmitted to Amazon’s cloud computers for interpretation. If it is something that Alexa can answer, a voice will come over the speaker and give you the answer.

If you want Alexa to play music, it has access to multiple platforms, including Amazon Prime Music, TuneIn Internet radio stations, Spotify, Pandora, and much more. It can also tell you a joke if you ask it to (but expect to hear a corny one). As long as it is properly integrated and connected, it can also control certain devices in your home. The products list Echo can integrate with is relatively small, but it is growing every week. If you look in the smart-home section of Alexa’s app menu, you will find many products of various companies currently partnering with this virtual assistant, including Ecobee thermostats, Philips Hue Lights, and other Amazon devices such as the Fire TV Stick.

Another major feature that Alexa features is its voice-controlled shopping option. Although there are several restrictions for now (for example, you can’t buy watches, shoes, jewelry, or clothing by voice), Prime members can easily purchase prime-eligible products. You simply tell Alexa to order an item and it will search for it and give you the price. If you want to confirm, it will ask for a four-digit security code, which is set up to protect you from unauthorized purchases.

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The Future of Alexa

Since one of the most popular features on Alexa is its smart-home abilities, Amazon is focused on making it easier for other companies to build devices that are compatible with this virtual assistant. Soon you’ll be able to control almost all of your electronic devices through Alexa. Imagine waking up and telling Alexa to start brewing your coffee while you take a shower.

A number of new products from Amazon, such as the Verge, Echo Plus, Echo Show, and Echo Connect will help take Alexa to another level. Connect will be able to connect to your mobile contacts and support hands-free calls and texts. Verge is on the way to being able to conduct multistep commands. For example, saying certain phrases like “movie time” will turn on the TV and shut off the lights.  Echo Show is a 7-inch touchscreen that features a two-driver speaker and a camera, which will allow you to make video calls, view video footage, and even stream videos to other people who have it.

The future of Alexa is not limited to just Amazon products. Samsung is working on a refrigerator with Alexa, and soon you’ll even find it in your car. Microsoft has recently announced it will make its voice-controlled virtual assistant Cortana compatible with Alexa, allowing users of each system to access features from the other. Lenovo and Onkyo are also launching their own speaker systems that feature Alexa.

Technology has constantly strived to make our lives easier, and voice-controlled virtual assistants have facilitated it. The way smartphones changed the way we communicate and receive information, Alexa will change the way we live our everyday lives. Being able to listen to your favorite music or get the current weather conditions with a simple voice command is just the tip of the iceberg. Soon, all electronics will be connected, and controlling everything from the comfort of your couch will change the way we live.

With Alexa, you will be able to perform several tasks at the same time, thus making you a more productive person and offering you free time for other tasks. Unlike your computer or smartphone, Alexa will not only find the recipe for your favorite dish but also speak it step-by-step, freeing your hands to do the actual work. Having your own voice-activated personal assistant with you wherever you go means you could add to your shopping list as you drive, or get just about any information you need by using your voice.

If you have some insights of how Alexa will impact the future of freelancers, please comment below.

Publié 14 novembre, 2017


Designer // Writer // Creative

Tom is a Design Correspondent for He is currently based in Melbourne and spends most of his non-work moments trying to find the best coffee.

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