Amazon Alexa is quickly becoming the most popular in-home robot. The device is simple, easy to setup and doesn't need to be activated. Simply talking to "Alexa" as if she were a member of your home, allows you to turn on lights, check the weather, find a recipe and engage with TV.
Amazon recently announced that Alexa now has over 1,000 third party "skills" making it smarter and smarter as developers easily create new voice-based experiences. NBC News and Syfy for example, are two TV networks that have now invested in the platform to create new experiences for their users. Alexa even has a Seinfeld Fan Trivia skill to give fans of the show a new way to test their knowledge.
The potential for simple, voice-based skills for TV is tremendous. If Amazon can continue to make Alexa a staple in people's homes it will start to be a big part of how we control our TVs and devices. Alexa already works with an Amazon Fire TV. Found Remote learned more about Alexa from Amazon spokeswoman Natalie Hereth and Seinfeld Fan Trivia creator Ken Westphal.
Found Remote: Why do you think Alexa has become the leader in artificial intelligence in the everyday home?
Natalie Hereth: It’s still early days for AI and a long way from being able to do things the way humans do things, but we’re solving unbelievably complex problems every day. When we started developing Alexa our goal was to make customers’ lives easier. We believe voice is the most natural user interface and can really improve the way people interact with technology in their home. It’s so simple to be able to ask for the weather from across the room, no need to pull out another device or look at a screen, and get an answer back instantly—even when music is playing or there’s other noise in your home. It’s really magical.
Additionally, we leveraged the power of the AWS cloud and opened the APIs to developers, companies and hobbyists to integrate Alexa into their products and services, and build new skills.
FR: How are media companies using Alexa skills? How do you think they will use it in the future?
NH: Many media companies are using Alexa through our Flash Briefing and Skills APIs, including NPR, Washington Post, BBC, Huffington Post, and others. Alexa-enabled devices give media a new way to reach audiences and engage their listeners while sharing bite size nuggets on tech, politics, culture, sports and more.
FR: Can Alexa be used to control your TV? How?
NH: Alexa is available on Fire TV. Using the voice remote, press and hold the voice button to ask for information, music, audiobooks, news, weather, traffic, sports, and more. Alexa then answers back directly through your Fire TV. You can also use Alexa to launch apps and play movies and TV shows—just say things like “Launch Hulu” or “Play Interstellar.” Customers can also control their TVs using other smart devices, IFTTT, and Alexa.
FR: Was it hard to reach the 1,000 skills? How much do you predict by a year from now?
NH: We’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and we’re really excited about the momentum. We can’t predict the future, but we look forward to seeing what developers will create with the next thousand skills.
FR: With skills like the Seinfeld trivia, how will Alexa give TV fans a new way to engage with their favorite shows?
NH: Storylines and characters have a way of staying with people long after the TV show is over. Skills like Seinfeld Trivia give fans a way to relive favorite moments, prove their knowledge to friends and a new way to interact with the show through their voice.
FR: Why did you build the Seinfeld trivia skill? What's your background?
Ken Westphal: This reason I built this skill is because I’m a huge Seinfeld fan and I wanted to make a trivia app for other Seinfeld fans. It tests your knowledge of the Seinfeld TV show and makes for a fun game to play.
My background is in web design, graphic design, and IT. I’ve been designing & developing websites for over 10 years and I’ve worked in IT for 8 years.
FR: Why is Seinfeld deserving of a skill?
KW: Seinfeld is deserving of a skill because of the large fan base it has. The finale aired 18 years ago and the show is still popular with the reruns it has on cable. The amount of money Hulu paid to have the rights to stream Seinfeld episodes speaks to how popular the show still is and the fan base it has.
FR: How is Alexa changing the way TV fans can engage with a show?
KW: Right now, Alexa allows TV fans to play trivia skill games to test their knowledge of a TV show. Down the road, I could see Alexa being able to listen to a TV commercial or TV show and be able to allow you to buy a product that is being shown on the commercial or giving more information about a scene or the episode of the TV show. The way Shazam now works to tell you what song is playing, I see Alexa working in a similar fashion but with TV shows, commercials, and movies.
FR: Any plans for other skills?
KW: I plan on building more trivia skills for Alexa.
FR: Anything else?
KW: Alexa will continue to get smarter & better as it continues to learn and gets more skills.