It’s been a decade since Amazon first launched their devices (namely the Kindle) and today, things are headed in a slightly different path.
The company is betting big on cloud-powered artificial intelligence systems – namely Alexa – which launches in India soon. ET had a discussion with David Limp, SVP of Devices at Amazon to discover more about the company’s plans.
Every device around you have limitations: limited processing, limited memory, storage etc.
Imagine if you could design something with unlimited processing, unlimited memory? A thing that was clear of these common constraints.
What would you design? What could it do?
This was the rationale behind Alexa – something built using the fundamentals of machine learning and cloud computing. Being free of physical and computing constraints means that Alexa is always learning.
The new Echo devices, which Amazon has already been taking pre-orders for in India, are just a conduit for Alexa – a means that you can connect to her.
“Amazon’s beliefs is that it is not merely about these devices itself but also the service and content,” says David Limp, SVP of Devices at Amazon.
“With no books, Kindle wouldn’t be produced. We launched Kindle in India around three years back – and it’s really off to a great start. India is an extremely literate society – people prefer to read – so that’s exercised well for the Kindle team. On the back of this momentum, we launched Fire TV Stick recently. Fire TV combines two interesting things: great content plus voice as a user interface. We’ve seen that voice is a natural way to have the ability to search through plenty of content” said Limp.
The Echo itself (and the service behind it, Alexa) premiered in America about three years back. What Amazon just showcased to us were the new devices, showcased in America just a little while ago. The unit continues sale in India and the united states at the same time – Oct 30.
“The vision started with the theory that voice was important, intuitive and futuristic. As Amazon, we’d a front row seat for some very interesting developments on the market: the introduction of cloud computing, machine learning, and big data. And we’re quite convinced that kind of thing (Echo and Alexa) will be ubiquitous in the house” says Lim
Immediately, Alexa has 10,000 ‘skills’ in India. Skills are features that Alexa has and more are always being added.
The seven microphone array on any Echo device is tuned to work in acoustically challenging conditions. It literally points the microphone towards the person (a process beamforming) and discounts all the ambient sound.
The Echo devices themselves have built-in speakers for room-filling sound and also a natural language understanding.
“Early on the introduction of Echo and Alexa, our latency was 6 or 7 secs – reducing that point was the key to be capable of getting a viable product. At this time, the latency is approximately 2 secs – which is amazing because you have to understand what all continues on in those days” says Limp.
“Suppose you ask ‘what’s the weather like’ – that gets compressed, sent over the Wi-fi network to the Amazon cloud where in fact the speech is unpacked, natural language understanding is applied (such that it understands what you’re saying), then it concerns a real-time weather service, the answer comes back, that information gets compressed, sent back over the cloud to your device where in fact the text-to-speech engine kicks in and speaks out the result.”
There is also been discuss privacy concerns with Echo and Alexa. In August this year, Wired Magazine reported on the hack by British security researcher Mark Barnes.
He was able to hack an Echo to carefully turn it into a wiretap device. Once hacked, these devices would silently stream audio over to a remote server of his choice.
The hack required physical usage of the Echo device was quite obvious because of the noticeable soldering and wires plus was only applicable to the first generation Echo.
“We take privacy very seriously and we electronically disconnect the microphones when you press the mute button. Even though these devices are off mute, we’re only listening for that wake word. The wake word is Alexa – but you can change it. So when Echo is transmitting data, the LED ring will light up. When and only once the light is on is whenever we are streaming any data with respect to the client. We also supply the customer full control over what we should store in the cloud. You are able to go and check it or delete it anytime.”
In the event you’re thinking about Alexa not having the ability to understand your accent, you don’t have to worry.
“We’ve spent a year working on what we should think is the easiest sounding Indian accent.But it’s not only that – the service must understand where it ‘lives’. Even the same words in English can mean various things in different elements of the world.For example, ‘marks’ is approximately writing on the wall where I’m from but also for India, it’s your grades. Similarly, ‘bunk’ in America is a bed but in India, it’s skipping school. Alexa understands all of this.”
In the event you’re already convinced, Amazon has already started pre-orders for the Echo devices. All three are new: the second generation Echo Dot, the all-new Echo and the Echo Plus (with an integral hub to regulate smart home devices).
There’s a 30% discount on most of them but you do have to obtain an invite to have the ability to buy one of these. By using Alexa at home, you expect a bit of the personality.
She almost becomes an associate of the family. Anyone inside your home can ask questions, select a song to play and ask her to do the skills.
We should be obtaining a bit more time with Alexa soon, getting started off with her many skills, so consider a complete review.