Amazon Alexa Enables Shopping Without Computer, Phone, or TV

July 4, 2017

Mail order catalogs, home shopping networks, and online shopping allowed consumers to buy products from the comfort of their own home.  Each of them had their heyday, but now they need to share the glory or roll into a grave, because Amazon Alexa is making one stop shopping a vocal action.  Tom’s Guide explains how this is possible in, “What Is Alexa Voice Shopping, And How Do You Use It?”

Ordering with Amazon Alexa is really simple.  All you do is summon Alexa, ask the digital assistant to order an item, and then you wait for the delivery.  The only stipulation is that you need to be an Amazon customer, preferably Amazon Prime.  Here is an example scenario:

Let’s just say you’ve been parched all day, and you’re drinking bottle after bottle of Fiji water. Suddenly, you realize you’re all out and you need some more. Rather than drive to the store in the scorching summer heat, you decide to order a case through Amazon and have it delivered to your house.  So, you say, “Alexa, order Fiji Natural Artesian Water.” Alexa will hear that and will respond by telling you that it’s found an option on Amazon for a certain price. Then, Alexa will ask you if it’s OK to order. If you’re happy with the product Alexa found, you can say “yes,” and your order will be placed.  Now, sit back, relax and wait for your water to arrive.

There are some drawbacks, such as you cannot order different multiple items in the same order, but you can order multiples of the same item.  Also if you are concerned about children buying all the toys from their favorite franchise, do not worry because you can set up a confirmation code option so the order will only be processed once the code is provided.

It is more than likely that Amazon will misinterpret orders, so relying on language services like Bitext might help sharpen Alexa’s selling skills.

Whitney Grace, July 4, 2017

 

Alexa Is Deaf to Vocal Skill Search

June 29, 2017

Here is a surprising fact: Amazon does not have a vocal search for Alexa skills.  Amazon prides itself on being on being a top technology developer and retailer, but it fails to allow Alexa users to search for a specific skill.  Sure, it will list the top skills or the newest ones, but it does not allow you to ask for any specifics.  Tech Crunch has the news story: “Amazon Rejects AI2’s Alexa Skill Voice-Search Engine.  Will It Build One?

The Allen Institute For Artificial Intelligence decided to take the task on themselves and built “Skill Search.”  Skill Search works very simply: users state what they want and then Skill Search will list other skills that can fulfill the request.  When AI2 submitted the Skill Search to Amazon it was rejected on the grounds that Amazon does not want “skills to recommend other skills.”  This is a pretty common business practice for companies and Amazon did state on its policy page that skills of this nature were barred.  Still, Amazon is missing an opportunity:

It would seem that having this kind of skill search engine would be advantageous to Amazon. It provides a discovery opportunity for skill developers looking to get more users, and highlighting the breadth of skills could make Alexa look more attractive compared to alternatives like Google Home that don’t have as well established of an ecosystem.

Amazon probably has a vocal search skill on their projects list and does not have enough information about it to share yet.  Opening vocal search gives Amazon another revenue stream for Alexa.  They are probably working on perfecting the skill’s language comprehension skills.  Hey Amazon, maybe you should consider Bitext’s language offerings for an Alexa skills search?

Whitney Grace, June 29, 2017

The Voice of Assistance Is Called Snips

June 22, 2017

Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa are the most well known digital assistants, but there are other companies that want to get the same recognition.  Snips is a brand new (relatively) company with the byline: “Our Mission Is To Make Technology Disappear By Putting An AI In Every Device.”  It is a noble mission to enable all technological devices with tools to make our lives better, easier, and more connected.  How did their story begin?

Snips was founded in 2013 as a research lab in AI. Through our projects, we realized that the biggest issue of the next decades was the way humans and machine interact. Indeed, rather than having humans make the effort to use machines, we should use AI to make machines learn to communicate with human. By making this ubiquitous and privacy preserving, we can make technology so intuitive and accessible that it simply disappears from our consciousness.

Snips offer their digital assistant for enterprise systems and it can also be programmed for other systems that need an on-device voice platform, using state of the art Deep Learning.  Snips offer many features, including on-device natural language understanding, customizable hotwords, on device automatic speech recognition, cross-platform, and it is also built using open source technology.

Snips also have their own unique bragging right: they are the only voice platform that is GDPR compliant.  GDPR is a new European regulation mean to protect an individual’s privacy more on connected devices.  If Snips wants to reach more clients in the European market, they might do well partnering with Spain-based Bitext, a company that specializes in linguistic analytics.

Whitney Grace, June 22, 2017

 

Will the Smartest Virtual Assistant Please Stand Up?

June 16, 2017

The devices are driving sales. However AI-powered virtual assistants are far from perfect. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana are good for basic questions on weather, radio stations, and calendars. But when it comes to complicated questions, all fail.

MarketWatch in an article titled This Is the Smartest Virtual Assistant — and It’s NOT Siri, or Alexa says:

A number of factors will shape the market moving forward, including changes in consumers’ comfort over the security and collection of private data, the progress of natural language processing and advances in voice interface functionalities, and regulatory requirements that could alter the market.

A survey revealed that none of the virtual assistants tested was able to answer 100% of questions (let alone attempt them). Virtual assistants that attempted to answer them were not answering the questions correctly. Google was at the top of the heap while Siri was the last.

The article also points out that people want complicated questions answered rather than the simpletons that these virtual assistants answer. It seems, the days of perfect virtual assistants are still far away. Till then, Google search engine is the best bet (the survey says so)

Vishal Ingole, June 16, 2017

Privacy Enabled on Digital Assistants

June 8, 2017

One thing that Amazon, Google, and other digital assistant manufacturers glaze over are how enabling vocal commands on smart speakers potentially violates a user’s privacy.  These include both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo.  Keeping vocal commands continuously on allows bad actors to hack into the smart speaker, listen, record, and spy on users in the privacy of their own homes.  If the vocal commands are disabled on smart speakers, it negates their purpose.  The Verge reports that one smart technology venture is making an individual’s privacy the top priority: “Essential Home Is An Amazon Echo Competitor Puts Privacy First.”

Andy Rubin’s recently released the Essential Home, essentially a digital assistant that responds to vocal, touch, or “sight” commands.  It is supposed to be an entirely new product in the digital assistant ring, but it borrows most of its ideas from Google and Amazon’s innovations.  Essential Home just promises to do them better.

Translation: Huh?

What Essential Home is exactly, isn’t clear. Essential has some nice renders showing the concept in action. But we’re not seeing any photos of a working device and nothing in the way of specifications, prices, or delivery dates. We know it’ll act as the interface to your smart home gear but we don’t know which ecosystems will be supported. We know it runs Ambient OS, though details on that are scant. We know it’ll try to alert you of contextually relevant information during the day, but it’s unclear how.

It is compatible with Nest, SmartThings, and HomeKit and it is also supposed to be friendly with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.  The biggest selling feature might be this:

Importantly, we do know that most of the processing will happen locally on the device, not in the cloud, keeping the bulk of your data within the home. This is exactly what you’d expect from a company that’s not in the business of selling ads, or everything else on the planet.

Essentially, keeping user data locally might be a bigger market player in the future than we think.  The cloud might appeal to more people, however, because it is a popular buzzword.  What is curious is how Essential Home will respond to commands other than vocal.  They might not be relying on a similar diamond in the rough concept that propelled Bitext to the front of the computational linguistics and machine learning market.

Whitney Grace, June 8, 2017

The Next Digital Assistant Is Apple Flavored

June 6, 2017

Amazon Alexa dominated the digital assistant market until Google released Google Assistant.  Both assistants are accessible through smart devices, but more readily through smart speakers that react to vocal commands.  Google and Amazon need to move over, because Apple wants a place on the coffee table.  Mashable explores Apple’s latest invention in, “Apple’s Answer To The Amazon Echo Could Be Unveiled As Early As June.”

Guess who will be the voice behind Apple’s digital assistant?  Why Siri, of course!  While Apple can already hear your groans, the shiny, new smart speaker will distract you.  Apple is fantastically wonderful at packaging and branding their technology to be chic, minimalist, and trendy.  Will the new packaging be enough to gain Siri fans?  Apple should consider deploying Bitext’s computational linguistic platform that renders human speech more comprehensible to computers and even includes sentimental analysis.  This is an upgrade Siri desperately needs.

Apple is also in desperate need to upgrade itself to the increasing demand for smart home products:

Up until now, people married to the Apple ecosystem haven’t had many smart-home options. That’s because the two dominant players, Echo and Google Home, don’t play nice with Siri. So if people wanted to stick with Apple, they only really had one option: Wait it out.
That’s about to change as the new Essential Home will work with Apple’s voice assistant. And, as an added bonus, the Essential Home looks nice. So nice, in fact, that it could sway Apple fans who are dying to get in on the smart-home game but don’t want to wait any longer for Apple to get its act together. “

The new Apple digital assistant will also come with a screen, possibly a way to leverage more of the market and compete with the new Amazon Echo Show.  However, I thought the point of having a smart speaker was to decrease a user’s dependency on screen-related devices.  That’s going to be a hard habit to break, but it’s about time Apple added its flavor to the digital assistant shelf.

Whitney Grace, June 6, 2017

Voice Assistant Apps Have Much Room to Grow

May 31, 2017

Recent excitement around voice assistants is largely based on the idea that, eventually, a thriving app market will develop around them. However, reports Recode, “Alexa and Google Assistant Have a Problem: People Aren’t Sticking with Voice Apps They Try.” Though sales of Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant platforms over the holidays were encouraging, startup VoiceLabs recently issued a report that indicates most apps entice few users to give them a try. Furthermore, those who have dabbled in voice apps have apparently found little to tempt them back. See the article for some statistics or the report for more. Writer Jason Del Rey observes:

The statistics underscore the difficulty Amazon and Google are having in getting Echo and Home owners to discover and use new voice apps on their platforms. Instead, many consumers are sticking to off-the-shelf actions like streaming music, reading audiobooks and controlling lights in their homes.

 

Those are all good use cases for the voice platforms, but not sufficient to build an ecosystem that will keep software developers engaged and lead to new transformative revenue streams. As a result, the numbers highlight the opportunity for Amazon, Google or others like Apple to stand out by helping both consumers and developers solve these discovery and retention problems.

The founders of VoiceLab see a niche, and they are jumping right into it. Amazon and Google, thus far, supply only limited usage data to would-be app developers, so VoiceLabs is lending them their own voice analytics tool, VoiceInsights. They are counting on the app market to pick up, and are determined to help it along. So far, this tool is free; the company expects to start charging for it once Amazon and/or Google provide a way to monetize apps. When that happens, developers will already be comfortable with VoiceLabs—well played. Probably. Founded in May 2016, VoiceLabs is based in San Francisco.

We, too, are paying close attention to the rise of voice assistants and their related apps. Watch for the debut of our new information service, Beyond Alexa.

Cynthia Murrell, May 31, 2017

Take the Time for Alexa

March 6, 2017

In the new digital assistant line up, Alexa responds better than Cortana and Siri, because it can provide better and more intelligent services that the smartphone based app.  As an Amazon product, as with Amazon Web Services, developers can learn how to build apps and other products for Alexa.  The question is how to get started?  HeroTurko created a learning tutorial for interested Alexa developers and it can be checked out at, “Amazon Alexa Development From Beginner To Intermediate.”

Voice-based apps are a growing sector in the technology industry and will only get bigger as the demand for voice-controlled technology increases.  The tutorial is designed to teach developers how to design voice apps and then launch them on the Amazon Echo.  Building your Alexa skills is a necessary step, so the course says, to get an edge on the voice app market:

The biggest industries in technology are surrounded by AI, Bots, and Voice technology. Voice technology I believe will be the new 21st user interface that will not only understand basic commands, but will be so smart to understand anything you tell it. This is why Amazon is making a big bet with Alexa, which it plans to generate close to $11 billion dollars by 2020. They know something about Amazon Echo, which is why now is the best time to learn these skills before the mainstream starts developing applications. We all know the story about apps for the smartphones, this is the same thing.

This course contains over 50 lectures and 1.5 hrs of content. It’s designed for beginners to play with new platforms in the voice space. You’ll learn the tools needed to build the Alexa Skills, how Alexa Skills work, and publish a skill to Amazon’s Alexa store.

Learning how to use Alexa is the precursor to designing other voice app and will probably segway into NLP.  If you want to learn where the IT market is going beyond machine learning and artificial intelligence, this is one of the places to start.

Whitney Grace, March 6, 2017

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