Alexa is always evolving — and we spoke to Amazon to learn more – CNN Underscored
Alexa is a true household name at this point. She’s the voice and intelligence behind our top pick for a smart speaker (the fourth-generation Echo) and smart display (the Echo Show 8), and an essential piece of many smart home products.
But have you ever wondered how Alexa works? How she gets smarter and works with various other gadgets? Or where Amazon might want to take the assistant in the future?
You could buy a smart speaker and give the assistant an ask yourself, but I sat down for a chat with two key folks behind Alexa and Amazon’s Smart Home to learn more. Toni Reid, VP of Alexa Experience and Echo Devices, and Marja Koopmans, Director of Smart Home, gave me a deep dive into all things Alexa, from how the tech works to how it’s constantly evolving to make your life easier.
Starting with the basics
One of the first questions I get from friends and family members alike is how these smart devices work, and Alexa can be a real head-scratcher for non-techies.
“When you say the wake word, it hears it, lights up and streams to the cloud. So once the customer states their desire — you know, play CNN, set a timer, etc. — that speech processing goes to the cloud to get transcribed,” says Reid.
That’s the first step, and it’s a key one that we’ve seen Amazon improve on. More recent Echo devices, such as the fourth-gen model, are faster than older Echos at picking up the wake word and getting a response back. That’s partly thanks to an on-device processor, which works to speed up these requests. It takes your voice and transcribes it to figure out what you’re asking. And Reid describes the following steps as a domino effect. If it’s a simple request, that can happen on the device, but more legwork is required when you ask for music or open a third-party skill. If you’re asking for a song from Spotify or Apple Music, it goes through the partners’ technologies to generate the proper result.
And this all happens pretty darn fast to get you your results reasonably quickly. There can be hiccups every once in a while, but Alexa has gotten the hang of it, especially with these more routine tasks like timers or the weather. Since Amazon’s Alexa is cloud-based, you’ll need an …….