Virtual Assistants: Amazon Alexa Chatbot

Last Updated on October 15, 2020 by Sean B

The Amazon Alexa Chatbot, also referred to as simply Alexa, is an artificially intelligent virtual assistant technology created by Amazon. This virtual assistant system supports voice interaction, provides traffic and weather updates on-demand, and controls smart devices from Amazon and other manufacturers, essentially working as a home automation system. Alexa can be made more useful by installing “skills”. These are functionalities developed by third-party developers to enable using Alexa with their products and apps.

Amazon has released a number of devices that work with the Alexa chatbot to create a seamless experience. The all-new Echo Studio is the first smart speaker to have 360-degree surround sound and support Dolby Atmos. Other notable Alexa devices include Echo Dot, Echo Show8, plug-in Echo devices, Alexa built-in earphones, Echo Frames, Echo Loop, and Alexa built-in Ring.

What is Amazon Alexa?

Because of the scope of Alexa and the related products, there is a question about what Amazon Alexa actually is. Some argue that Alexa is simply the chatbot’s personality, but according to Amazon itself, Alexa is their cloud-based voice service. That means that Alexa is the entire service, including the AI behind the chatbot. It also means that Alexa can’t be separated from the cloud services and AI behind it. So you can change Alexa’s name on your own devices, but it is still Alexa.

The Glass SPheres outside of Amazon's Seattle Offices, where Alexa was created.

Amazon Alexa Development History

Amazon Alexa was developed and commissioned by Amazon Lab126; to be used with Amazon Echo smart speakers. It was announced and released in November 2014. The concept was inspired by the conversational system and computer voice on the Starship Enterprise in the Sci-Fi movie series Star Trek, and places something close to that level of control in your hands.

The name Alexa was chosen by Amazon developers provided the reason that it has an X in it, which makes it easy to recognize and detect for the smart devices. The name is also a tribute to the Library of Alexandria. Amazon announced they were creating an Alexa Fund in June 2015. The purpose of this $200 million fund was to invest in companies that were working on developing voice technologies. The beneficiaries of this fund include Ecobee, Jargon, Orange Chef, Toymail, Garageio, Mojio, and MARA.

As of now, there are more than 100,000 smart devices from 9,500 brands compatible with the Amazon Alexa Chatbot. It has also acquired more than 100,000 skills. Since August 2018, Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana is also available on Alexa compatible devices. In December 2018, Amazon integrated Wolfram Programming language in the Alexa bot, making it respond to questions about science, math, astronomy, engineering, politics, history, and geography with improved accuracy.

The Amazon Alexa chatbot is currently available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and Hindi.

An Amazon Alexa Device sitting on a stack of books.

Interacting with Amazon Alexa

Alexa-enabled smart devices can be activated by saying a wake-word set by the user. If you are using Alexa on your iPhone or an Android device, you need to press a button to activate Alexa, and then you can talk to it. Some phones do support voice wake up for Alexa, and you can just say “Alexa” or “Alexa Wake” to activate it.

The Alexa chatbot is able to perform a number of actions by default. It includes sharing the current weather, creating lists, operating smart home devices, accessing Wikipedia articles, responding to texts and calls, and many other things. After saying the wake word, the user can ask a question or give a command to the Amazon chatbot, and it will come up with an answer or a response in accordance with the thing asked. Alexa-powered devices like the Echo and other smart speakers are capable of streaming music from the Amazon Music account of the user and also support Spotify and Pandora. The Alexa bot can also play music from third-party streaming platforms, including Google Play Music and Apple Music.

Reimagine What's Possible with Amazon and Alexa.

What Can Alexa Do?

Here are just a few of the things that Alexa is capable of doing.

Amazon Alexa is one of the leaders in home automation. The automation services of Alexa were announced on April 8, 2015. As of now, it is able to interact with more than 100,000 devices from different manufacturers like Fibaro, SNAS, Ecobee, Belkin, Geeni, Insteon, IFTTT, Philips Hue, LIFX, and many more. Developers can keep adding new home automation skills to Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit.

The Alexa virtual assistant can order take-out food for you. This function was introduced in May 2017 and is compatible with Grubhub, Domino’s Pizza, Wingstop, and Seamless. In the UK, an online food ordering company, Just Eat, also supports Alexa. Amazon released the Amazon Key in November 2017, which works in coordination with the Alexa Cloud Cam and smart lock to unlock the door, making it possible for couriers to deliver packages inside the users’ home.

Amazon’s Alexa is also compatible with a number of free and paid media streaming services and can play them on Amazon smart devices. These include Amazon Music, Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, TuneIn, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify Premium.

Alexa can stream media directly from the user’s Amazon Music library. If you want to play your own collection, you can upload the songs from your PC to My Music on your Amazon account, and then Alexa can play them on your Amazon smart devices, and you can control them with a voice command. Up to 250 sings can be uploaded for free.

Amazon Alexa users can also get updates on their favorite sports teams from Alexa. To do this, the user needs to create a list of the teams they want to know about using the Sports Update app on Alexa. It supports adding up to 15 teams at a time.

Alexa can also be used to manage your messages. You can send and receive messages using Alexa in several ways. It delivers messages to the Amazon Alexa application on the user’s phone and can also play them on Echo devices. However, typed-in messages can only be sent using the Alexa app. Echo devices can only send voice messages. Alexa is not capable of sending a photo or video attachments with messages. If you don’t want to get messages on your Echo devices, you can put Alexa on DO NOT DISTURB mode, and the messages will be blocked until you disengage DO NOT DISTURB.

Amazon also offers an Alexa for Business service, which takes Alexa from a Virtual Assistant to a Virtual Agent. It is a paid subscription that makes it possible for businesses to make conference calls, make meeting plans, and use custom skills developed by third-party developers. Currently, the most notable skills offered by Alexa for business have been developed by Microsoft, SAP, and Salesforce.

The Final Verdict

The Amazon Alexa chatbot is a huge leap forward in the Artificial Intelligence and conversational computing game. The fact that Amazon has made it available for developers has made it even more capable, and its abilities are only increasing. I expect that we’ll soon see the Amazon chatbot becoming even more mainstream and being used in almost every house and possibly every new vehicle.

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Assistants: Amazon Alexa Chatbot”

  1. Hi,
    I heard so much about Alexa and it is very tempting to own a virtual assistant at home. I’m still trying to weigh the benefits. Other than that, this gadget is pretty nifty.
    Very helpful article here.

    Reply
    • Ina,

      One thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a Virtual Assistant Devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, or any of the other available devices is the level of trust you have in the company (notice how I left Facebook’s Portal off the list?)

      Remember that your information is out there and potentially being made available to partner organizations. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Sonos all have a much better record of protecting user information than Facebook does. I’ve been using Alexa for a while and it has been a great experience. One of my friends has taken the use of Alexa about as far as he can, connecting it to nearly everything in his home. I think the real battle here is between Google and Amazon, and the number of devices that Alexa connects with gives them a slight edge for now, but Google is catching up and their device has been making some big leaps. In the end though, find the device that matches your needs the best.

      Sean

      Reply

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