ⓘ Amazon Alexa


ⓘ Amazon Alexa

Amazon Alexa, known simply as Alexa, is a virtual assistant AI technology developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, sports, and other real-time information, such as news. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. Users are able to extend the Alexa capabilities by installing "skills".

Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word such as Alexa; other devices such as the Amazon mobile app on iOS or Android and Amazon Dash Wand require the user to push a button to activate Alexas listening mode, although, some phones also allow a user to say a command, such as "Alexa" or "Alexa wake". Currently, interaction and communication with Alexa are available only in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hindi. In Canada, Alexa is available in English and French with the Quebec accent.

As of November 2018, Amazon had more than 10.000 employees working on Alexa and related products. In January 2019, Amazons devices team announced that they had sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices.

In September, 2019 Amazon launched many new devices achieving many records while competing with the worlds smart home industry. The new Echo Studio became the first smart speaker with 360 sound and Dolby sound. Other new devices included an Echo dot with a clock behind the fabric, a new third-generation Amazon Echo, Echo Show 8, a plug-in Echo device, Echo Flex, Alexa built-in wireless earphones, Echo buds, Alexa built-in spectacles, Echo frames, an Alexa built-in Ring, and Echo Loop.


1. History

In November 2014, Amazon announced Alexa alongside the Echo. Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the Starship Enterprise in science fiction TV series and movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Amazon developers chose the name Alexa because it has a hard consonant with the X, which helps it be recognized with higher precision. They have said the name is reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria, which is also used by Amazon Alexa Internet for the same reason. In June 2015, Amazon announced the Alexa Fund, a program that would invest in companies making voice control skills and technologies. The US$ 200 million fund has invested in companies including Jargon, ecobee, Orange Chef, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, MARA, and Mojio. In 2016, the Alexa Prize was announced to further advance the technology.

In January 2017, the first Alexa Conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee, an independent gathering of the worldwide community of Alexa developers and enthusiasts. The follow-up has been announced with a new name, Project Voice, and will be keynoted on the first day with Amazons Head of Education for Alexa, Paul Cutsinger.

At the Amazon Web Services Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, Amazon announced Alexa for Business and the ability for app developers to have paid add-ons to their skills.

In May 2018, Amazon announced they would include Alexa in 35.000 new Lennar Corporation homes built this year.

In November 2018, Amazon opened its first Alexa-themed pop-up shop inside of Torontos Eaton Centre, showcasing the use of home automation products with Amazons smart speakers. Amazon also sells Alexa devices at Amazon Books and Whole Foods Market locations, in addition to mall-based pop-ups throughout the United States.

In April 2019, Amazon announced the expansion of Alexa to Brazil, in Portuguese, together with Bose, Intelbras, and LG.


2. App

A companion app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore. The app can be used by owners of Alexa-enabled devices to install skills, control music, manage alarms, and view shopping lists. It also allows users to review the recognized text on the app screen and to send feedback to Amazon concerning whether the recognition was good or bad. A web interface is also available to set up compatible devices.


3. Functions

Alexa can perform a number of pre-set functions out-of-the-box such as set timers, share the current weather, create lists, access Wikipedia articles, and many more things. Users say a designated "wake word" the default is simply "Alexa" to alert an Alexa-enabled device of an ensuing function command. Alexa listens for the command and performs the appropriate function, or skill, to answer a question or command. Alexas question answering ability is partly powered by the Wolfram Language. When questions are asked, Alexa converts sound waves into text which allows it to gather information from various sources. Behind the scenes, the data gathered is then parsed by Wolframs technology to generate suitable and accurate answers. Alexa-supported devices can stream music from the owners Amazon Music accounts and have built-in support for Pandora and Spotify accounts. Alexa can play music from streaming services such as Apple Music and Google Play Music from a phone or tablet.

In addition to performing pre-set functions, Alexa can also perform additional functions through third-party skills that users can enable. Some of the most popular Alexa skills in 2018 included "Question of the Day" and "National Geographic Geo Quiz" for trivia; "TuneIn Live" to listen to live sporting events and news stations; "Big Sky" for hyper local weather updates; "Sleep and Relaxation Sounds" for listening to calming sounds; "Sesame Street" for childrens entertainment; and "Fitbit" for Fitbit users who want to check in on their health stats. In 2019, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zigbee Alliance announced a partnership to make smart home products work together.


3.1. Functions Technology Advancements

As of April 2019, Amazon had over 90.000 functions "skills" available for users to download on their Alexa-enabled devices, a massive increase from only 1.000 functions in June 2016. Microsofts AI Cortana became available to use on Alexa enabled devices as of August 2018. In 2018, Amazon rolled out a new "Brief Mode," wherein Alexa would begin responding with a beep sound rather than saying, "Okay," to confirm receipt of a command. On December 20, 2018, Amazon announced a new integration with the Wolfram Alpha answer engine, which provides enhanced accuracy for users asking questions of Alexa related to math, science, astronomy, engineering, geography, history, and more.


3.2. Functions Home automation

In the home automation space, Alexa can interact with devices from several manufacturers including SNAS, Fibaro, Belkin, ecobee, Geeni, IFTTT, Insteon, LIFX, LightwaveRF, Nest, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, and Yonomi. The Home Automation feature was launched on April 8, 2015. Developers are able to create their own smart home skills using the Alexa Skills Kit.

In September 2018, Amazon announced a microwave oven that can be paired and controlled with an Echo device. It is sold under Amazons AmazonBasics label.


3.3. Functions Music

Alexa supports a multitude of subscription-based and free streaming services on Amazon devices. These streaming services include: Prime Music, Amazon Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Audible, Pandora, and Spotify Premium. However, some of these music services are not available on other Alexa-enabled products that are manufactured by companies external of its services. This unavailability also includes Amazons own Fire TV devices or tablets.

Alexa is able to stream media and music directly. To do this, Alexas device should be linked to the Amazon account, which enables access to ones Amazon Music library, in addition to any audiobooks available in ones Audible library. Amazon Prime members have an additional ability to access stations, playlists, and over two million songs free of charge. Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers also have access to a list of millions of songs.

Amazon Music for PC allows one to play personal music from Google Play, iTunes, and others on an Alexa device. This can be done by uploading ones collection to My Music on Amazon from a computer. Up to 250 songs can be uploaded free of charge. Once this is done, Alexa can play this music and control playback through voice command options.


3.4. Functions Sports

Amazon Alexa allows the user to hear updates on supported sports teams. A way to do this is by adding the sports team to the list created under Alexas Sports Update app section.

The user is able to hear updates on up to 15 supported teams:

  • NCAA FBS football - National Collegiate Athletic Association: Football Bowl Subdivision
  • German Bundesliga 1st Division
  • NCAA mens basketball - National Collegiate Athletic Association
  • FA Cup - Football Association Challenge Cup
  • UEFA Champions League - Union of European Football Association
  • MLS - Major League Soccer
  • EPL - English Premier League
  • NFL - National Football League
  • MLB - Major League Baseball
  • WNBA - Womens National Basketball Association
  • NBA - National Basketball Association
  • German Bundesliga 2nd Division
  • NHL - National Hockey League


3.5. Functions Messaging and calls

There are a number of ways messages can be sent from Alexas application. Alexa can deliver messages to a recipients Alexa application, as well as to all supported Echo devices associated with their Amazon account. Alexa can send typed messages only from Alexas app. If one sends a message from an associated Echo device, it transmits as a voice message. Alexa cannot send attachments such as videos and photos.

For households with more than one member, ones Alexa contacts are pooled across all of the devices that are registered to its associated account. However, within Alexas app one is only able to start conversations with its Alexa contacts. When accessed and supported by an Alexa app or Echo device, Alexa messaging is available to anyone in ones household. These messages can be heard by anyone with access in the household. This messaging feature does not yet contain a password protection or associated PIN. Anyone who has access to ones cell phone number is able to use this feature to contact them through their supported Alexa app or Echo device. The feature to block alerts for messages and calls is available temporarily by utilizing the Do Not Disturb feature.


3.6. Functions Business

Alexa for Business is a paid subscription service allowing companies to use Alexa to join conference calls, schedule meeting rooms, and custom skills designed by 3rd-party vendors. At launch, notable skills are available from SAP, Microsoft, and Salesforce.


3.7. Functions Severe Weather Alerts

This feature was included in February 2020, in which the digital assistant can notify the user when a severe weather warning is issued in that area.


3.8. Functions Traffic Updates

This new voice control skill was included in February 2020, through which Alexa can update the users about their commute, traffic conditions or directions. It can also send the information to users phone.


4. Alexa Skills Kit

Amazon allows developers to build and publish skills for Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit known as Alexa Skills. These third-party developed skills, once published, are available across Alexa-enabled devices. Users can enable these skills using the Alexa app.

A "Smart Home Skill API" is available, meant to be used by hardware manufacturers to allow users to control smart home devices.

Most skills run code almost entirely in the cloud, using Amazons AWS Lambda service.

In April 2018, Amazon launched Blueprints, a tool for individuals to build skills for their personal use.

In February 2019, Amazon further expanded the capability of Blueprints by allowing customers to publish skills theyve built with the templates to its Alexa Skill Store in the US for use by anyone with an Alexa-enabled device.


5. Alexa Voice Service

Amazon allows device manufacturers to integrate Alexa voice capabilities into their own connected products by using the Alexa Voice Service AVS, a cloud-based service that provides APIs to interface with Alexa. Products built using AVS have access to Alexas growing list of capabilities including all of the Alexa Skills. AVS provides cloud-based automatic speech recognition ASR and natural language understanding NLU. There are no fees for companies looking to integrate Alexa into their products by using AVS.

The voice of Amazon Alexa is generated by a long short-term memory artificial neural network.

On September 25, 2019 Alexa and Google Assistant can help their users apply to jobs at McDonalds using voice recognition services. It is the world first employment service using voice command service. The service is available in the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Ireland, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Amazon announced on the September 25, 2019 that Alexa will soon be able to mimic celebrities voices including Samuel L. Jackson, costing $0.99 for each voice.

In 2019, Alexa started replying to Spanish voice commands in Español.


6. Amazon Lex

On November 30, 2016 Amazon announced that they will make the speech recognition and natural language processing technology behind Alexa available for developers under the name of Amazon Lex. This new service would allow developers to create their own chatbots that can interact in a conversational manner, similar to Alexa. Along with the connection to various Amazon services, the initial version will provide connectivity to Facebook Messenger, with Slack and Twilio integration to follow.


7. Reception and issues

There are concerns about the access Amazon has to private conversations in the home and other non-verbal indications that can identify who is present in the home with non-stop audio pick-up from Alexa-enabled devices. Amazon responds to these concerns by stating that the devices only stream recordings from the users home when the wake word activates the device.

Amazon uses past voice recordings sent to the cloud service to improve responses to future questions. Users can delete voice recordings that are associated with their account.

Alexa uses an address stored in the companion app when it needs a location. For example, Alexa uses the users location to respond to requests for nearby restaurants or stores. Similarly, Alexa uses the users location for mapping-related requests.

Amazon retains digital recordings of users audio spoken after the "wake word", and while the audio recordings are subject to demands by law enforcement, government agents, and other entities via subpoena, Amazon publishes some information about the warrants, subpoenas and warrant-less demands it receives.

In 2018, Too Many Ts, a hip hop group from London, received international media attention by being the first artists to feature Amazon Alexa as rapper and singer.

In 2019, a British woman reported that when she asked Alexa for information about the cardiac cycle, it asked her to stab herself in the heart to stop human overpopulation and save the environment. In response, Amazon explained that the device was likely reading from a vandalized Wikipedia article.


8. Privacy concerns

In early 2018, security researchers managed to turn an Echo into a spy device by creating a malicious Alexa Skill that could record unsuspecting users and send the transcription of their conversations to an attacker.

In November 2018, Amazon sent 1700 recordings of an American couple to an unrelated European man. The incident proves that Alexa records people without their knowledge. Although the man who received the recordings reported the anomaly to Amazon, the company did not notify the victim until German magazine ct also contacted them and published a story about the incident. The recipient of the recordings contacted the publication after weeks went by following his report with no response from Amazon although the company did delete the recordings from its server. When Amazon did finally contact the man whose recordings had been sent to a stranger, they claimed to have discovered the error themselves and offered him a free Prime membership and new Alexa devices by way of apology.

Amazon blamed the incident on "human error" and called it an "isolated single case." However, in May 2018 an Alexa device in Portland, Oregon, recorded a familys conversation and sent it to one of their contacts without their knowledge. The company dismissed the incident as an "extremely rare occurrence" and claimed the device "interpreted background conversation" as a sequence of commands to turn on, record, send the recording, and select a specific recipient.

Alexa has been known to listen in on private conversations and store personal information which was hacked and sent to the hacker. Although Amazon has announced that this was a rare occurrence, Alexa shows the dangers of using technology and sharing private information with robotics.

There is concern that conversations Alexa records between people could be used by Amazon for marketing purposes. Privacy experts have expressed real concern about how marketing is getting involved in every stage of peoples lives without users noticing. This has necessitated the creation of regulations that can protect users private information from technology companies.

A New Hampshire judge ruled in November 2018 that authorities could examine recordings from an Amazon Echo device recovered from the home of murder victim Christine Sullivan for use as evidence against defendant Timothy Verrill. Investigators believe that the device, which belonged to the victims boyfriend, could have captured audio of the murder and its aftermath.

During the Chris Watts interrogation/interview video at timestamp 16:15:15, Watts was told by the interrogator, "We know that theres an Alexa in your house, and you know those are trained to record distress," indicating Alexa may send recordings to Amazon if certain frequencies and decibels that can only be heard during intense arguments or screams are detected.


9. Supported devices

As of September 2018, over 20.000 devices support interaction with Amazon Alexa. Listed below are commercially available Alexa devices.

TVs and media boxes

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • Element 43-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV
  • Sony Smart TVs
  • Samsung Smart TVs 2019
  • Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation, limited features
  • Amazon Fire TV Stick

Laptops and desktops

  • Acer Aspire, Spin, Switch and Swift notebooks
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 laptops 2018
  • HP Pavilion Wave desktop
  • Acer Aspire all-in-one desktops
  • Asus ZenBook and VivoBook laptops 2018

9.1. Supported devices Smart speakers

  • Brilliant Control touchscreen home hub
  • Onkyo VC-FLX1 smart speaker
  • Kitsound Voice One smart speaker
  • Lenovo Smart Assistant
  • Amazon Tap
  • Jam Voice portable speaker
  • Eufy Genie by Anker
  • Amazon Echo Plus
  • Harman Kardon Astra smart speaker
  • Sonos One smart speaker
  • Huawei AI Cube smart speaker coming December 2018
  • Soundcore by Anker Flare S+ coming soon
  • Klipsch smart soundbars released in 2019
  • Marshall Stanmore II Voice smart speaker coming in October 2018
  • Amazon Echo
  • Invoxia Triby
  • LG SmartThinQ Hub
  • Fabriq Chorus smart speaker
  • Energy Sistem Smart Speaker 7 Tower released in 2018
  • Fabriq smart speaker
  • Polk Audio Command Bar soundbar
  • Bose Home Speaker 500 coming in October 2018
  • Libratone Zip 2 Mini coming soon
  • Riva Concert coming soon
  • Spark by Clazio touchscreen smart speaker
  • Amazon Echo Show
  • Bose Soundbar 700 coming in October 2018
  • Marshall Acton II smart speaker coming in November 2018
  • Amazon Echo Spot
  • Riva Stadium coming soon
  • Bose Soundbar 500 coming in October 2018
  • Yeelight Voice Assistant outside China
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • Energy Sistem Smart Speaker 3 Talk released in 2018
  • Energy Sistem Smart Speaker 5 Home released in 2018
  • Harman Kardon Allure smart speaker
  • Libratone Zip 2 coming soon
  • Amazon Echo Look
  • Vobot clock

9.2. Supported devices TVs and media boxes

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • Element 43-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV
  • Sony Smart TVs
  • Samsung Smart TVs 2019
  • Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation, limited features
  • Amazon Fire TV Stick

9.3. Supported devices Phones and tablets

  • TCL Xess tablet
  • Essential Phone halo grey color only
  • Moto Smart Speaker
  • HTC U11
  • Moto X4
  • Fire 7, HD 8 & 10 - 7th generation
  • Amazon Fire and Fire HD tablets - 4th, 5th, or 6th generation devices limited features
  • Huawei Mate 9

9.4. Supported devices Laptops and desktops

  • Acer Aspire, Spin, Switch and Swift notebooks
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 laptops 2018
  • HP Pavilion Wave desktop
  • Acer Aspire all-in-one desktops
  • Asus ZenBook and VivoBook laptops 2018

9.5. Supported devices Smart home

  • GE Sol LED Lamp
  • iDevices Instinct light switch
  • Omate Yumi Robot
  • Amazon Dash Wand 2017 version
  • Nucleus Anywhere Intercom
  • LG InstaView smart refrigerator
  • ecobee4 smart thermostat
  • ecobee Switch+ light switch
  • ASUS Lyra Voice Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi Router Alexa Built-in + Bluetooth Speaker + Spotify Connect
  • First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector 2018 version
  • Kohler Co. Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror
  • Netgear Orbi Voice Wi-Fi router

9.6. Supported devices Wearables and earphones

  • iMCO CoWatch
  • Omate Rise Smartwatch
  • Martian mVoice Smartwatches
  • Lynx robot
  • Pebble Core cancelled due to Fitbit acquisition, product did not reach retail
  • Bragi Dash and Dash Pro earbuds
  • Orion Labs Onyx smart walkie-talkie
  • OV by ONvocal headphones

9.7. Supported devices Automotive

  • Mini vehicles all 2018 models
  • Toyota vehicles select 2018 models
  • Volkswagen vehicles 2018 models
  • BMW vehicles all 2018 models
  • Roav Viva by Anker
  • Muse by Speak Music
  • Garmin Speak
  • Ford vehicles select models
  • Lexus vehicles select 2018 models

9.8. Supported devices Others

  • EchoSim website
  • Amazon Music iOS and Android apps only for music playback
  • Roger app
  • Xbox One
  • Amazon iOS and Android shopping apps only for purchasing products from Amazon.com
  • Amazon Alexa mobile app
  • Anki Vector robot
  • Voice in a Can app for Apple Watch

10. Alexa Prize

In September 2016, a university student competition called the Alexa Prize was announced for November of that year. The prize is equipped with a total of $2.5 million and teams and their universities can win cash and research grants. The process started with team selection in 2016. The 2017 inaugural competition focuses on the challenge of building a socialbot. The University of Washington student team was awarded first place for the 2017 prize. A second year of the competition has been announced.


11. Alexa Fund

Given Amazons strong belief in voice technologies, Amazon announced a US$100 million venture capital fund on June 25, 2015. By specifically targeting developers, device-makers and innovative companies of all sizes, Amazon aims at making digital voice assistants more powerful for its users. Eligible projects for financial funding base on either creating new Alexa capabilities by using the Alexa Skills Kit ASK or Alexa Voice Service AVS.

The final selection of companies originates from the customer perspective and works backwards, specific elements that are considered for potential investments are: level of customer centricity, degree of innovation, motivation of leadership, fit to Alexa product/service line, amount of other funding raised.

Besides financial support, Amazon provides business and technology expertise, help for bringing products to the market, aid for hard- and software development as well as enhanced marketing support on proprietary Amazon platforms.

The list of funded business includes in alphabetical order: DefinedCrows, Dragon Innovation, ecobee, Embodied Inc., Garageio, Invoxia, kitt.ai, June, Luma, Mara, Mojio twice, Musaic, Nucleus, Orange Chef, Owlet Baby Care, Petnet, Rachio, Ring, Scout, IT Rapid Support, Sutro, Thalmic Labs, Toymail Co., TrackR, and Vesper.