Update: I now “hacked” the API to control Hue Lights and initiate a phone call with Twilio. Check here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r58ERvxT0qM
Last November Amazon announced a new kind of device. Part speaker, part personal assistant and it called it Amazon Echo. If you saw the announcement you might have also see their quirky infomercial.
The parodies came hours after their announcement, and they were funny. But dismissing this just as a Siri/Cortana/Google Now copycat might miss the potential of this “always listening” device. To be fair this is not the first device that can do this. I have a Moto X that has an alway-on chip waiting for a wake word (“OK Google”), Google Glass glass does the same thing (“OK Glass.”) But the fact that I don’t have to hold the device, be near it, or push a button (Siri) makes this cylinder kind of magical.
It is also worth noting that NONE of these devices are really “always-listening-and-sending-all-your-conversations-to-the-NSA,” in fact the “always listening” part is local. Once you say the wake word then I guess you better make sure don’t spill the beans for the next few seconds, which is the period that the device will listen and do a STT (speech-t0-text) operation on the Cloud.
We can all start seeing through Amazon and why this good for them. Right off the bat you can buy songs with a voice command. You can also add “stuff” to your shopping list. Which also reminds me of a similar product Amazon had last year, Amazon Dash which unfortunately is only for selected markets. The fact is that Amazon wants us to buy more from them, and for some of us that is awesome, right? Prime, two day shipping, drone delivery, etc.
I have been eyeing these “always listening” devices for a while. The Ubi ($300) and Ivee ($200) were my two other choices. Both have had mixed reviews and both of them are still absent on the promise of an SDK or API. Amazon Echo doesn’t have an SDK yet, but they placed a link to show the Echo team your interest in developing apps for it.
The promise of a true artificial intelligence assistant or personal contextual assistant (PCA) is coming soon to a house or office near you. Which brings me to my true interest in Amazon Echo. The possibility of creating a “Smart Office” where the assistant will anticipate my day-to-day tasks, setup meetings, remind me of upcoming events, analyze and respond email and conversations, all tied to my Oracle Cloud of course. The assistant will also control physical devices in my house/office “Alexa, turn on the lights,” “Alexa, change the temperature to X,” etc.
All in all, it has been fun to request holiday songs around the kitchen and dinning room (“Alexa, play Christmas music.”) My kids are having a hay day trying to ask the most random questions. My wife, on the other side, is getting tired of the constant interruption of music, but I guess it’s the novelty. We shall see if my kids are still friendly to Alexa in the coming months.
In my opinion, people dismissing Amazon Echo, will be the same people that said: “Why do I need a music player on my phone, I already have ALL my music collection in my iPod” (iPhone naysayers circa 2007), “Why do I need a bigger iPhone? That `pad thing is ridiculously huge!” (iPad naysayers circa 2010.) And now I have already heard “Why do I want a device that is always connected and listening, I already have Siri/Cortana/Google Now” (Amazon Echo naysayers circa 2014.)
Agree, disagree? Let me know.