Alexa Voice Services represents top notch weak AI for natural language processing. They are second to none in terms of quality, which in this area is measured by accuracy (okay, maybe Baidu’s Andrew Ng‘s product is better, but so far only available for Mandarin). Accuracy is a non-linear measure of usefulness. What I mean is this: Siri, Cortana, etc. may be at 95% accuracy. But this 5% of inaccuracy weights heavily in terms of usability: they are a cute thing but not terribly reliable (and when they understand you wrong, they are very annoying). Alexa is more at 98%, which could be more or less the threshold for genuine usability. But worry not, Apple, Microsoft and the rest of the pack will eventually catch up in this area.
What makes Alexa Voice Services unique? Openness. Not meaning that it’s open source (it isn’t by all means), but because Amazon is making big efforts in getting folks to embed AVS in their applications, at both ends. This is represented by the Context Diagram which accompanies this post.
Alexa Voice Services can hook up with any application
Amazon has published the Alexa Skills Kit, a software development kit to help people create skills that can be used via an Alexa-powered voice device. I will devote another post to ASK on its own, so I won’t delve into it now. They have also published a specific SDK to control household applicances (lightbulbs, blinds, etc.) called Smart Home Skill API (which I haven’t tried yet).
Makers’ paradise: you can use Alexa Voice Services with your own hardware
This also deserves a full blown post, but for a hint of what’s possible, here’s the Alexa Lambda Linux (ALL) Reference Design by a kind soul who is as good at managing projects as at documenting them. Or you could check out Amazon’s how-to for building an Echo-like device with a Raspberry Pi. Now just think again about Internet of Things (IoT). Stuff not only will be connected, but you can also talk to things!
Other competitors (Google, for instance) have recently announced their take on household intelligent speakers (Google Home), but no sign of beta developers plan or SDK in the horizon.
Are you in the US? Do you own an Amazon Echo device? What do you use it for?