Technology Review: Amazon’s Echo

Well, it’s finally happened.  Amazon’s star, the Echo has gotten even smarter.

Even though Amazon released Echo; the hands-free personal assistant disguised as a speaker a couple of years ago, it still remains incredibly popular and a very cool piece of technology.

To put it simply, Echo is a hands free speaker that is entirely controlled by the user’s voice.  Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service (users may refer to their own echo simply as “Alexa”) to access any information the user could possibly want to know.

Here are some of my favorite things that Alexa can do:

  • Stream music:  Alexa can play a song, artist, album, playlist or genre from the Amazon Prime Music Library.  She is also able to access services such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as Internet radio sites such as iHeartRadio.
  • Read the headlines:  Alexa can not only stream your local news from over the Internet; she can compile a “news brief” of headlines and audio clips of news outlets of your choice.  Just ask Alexa and she’ll do it.
  • Set timers and alarms: setting a wake-up alarm for each morning or a timer for the banana bread that’s in the oven is not a problem for Alexa.
  • Answer general questions: Alexa is able to look up basic facts, solve math problems, converse with you, and she is even quite skilled at telling jokes.  The more you talk to Alexa, the more she will learn about you and adapt to your speech patterns.
  • Control your smart home: Alexa has the capability to control light bulbs, switches, thermostats — pretty much everything.  As long as the smart home technology is paired up with the user’s mobile devices, she’ll be able to control it at their command.

Now for the updates.  Since the Echo was released a couple of years ago, the artificial intelligence has only continued to develop and mature.  Developers have created add-ons for Alexa, which are referred to as “skills” (pretty much apps that can be downloaded to Alexa to teach her even more new tricks).  Alexa is now able to call the user an Uber, order a pizza, and make Capital One credit card payments.  Over the weekend, Amazon announced that Alexa’s new downloadable skills have reached over 1,000!  This past January, Alexa’s skills section had just over 130 apps.  That’s pretty incredible growth.

I will say that I am incredibly impressed with Alexa and all that she can do, and I just might buy one if I weren’t (a little more than) slightly scared by all the technology and access to information she possesses!  Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that we live in a time where we can talk to a smart speaker in our home and it can give us essentially any bit of information that we could want to know.  We are literally living in a Science Fiction movie.

Regardless of how scary I might find this technology, this is the world we live in and I am excited to see how Alexa’s technology develops and what Amazon comes up with next.

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