Monday, 20 November 2017
News Tech

Amazon’s Alexa is making waves


First there was Siri, now there’s Alexa.

For those living in a quiet and peaceful world away from the web, Siri is Apple’s intelligent personal assistant.

You can ask her questions about all kinds of stuff. If opening apps and websites is too much effort, just ask Siri to do it for you.

“Siri open my email.”

A second later, up pops your email. You get the picture.

As for Alexa, she’s Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant.

Professor Phillip O’Neill wrote about her in his regular Monday column in the Newcastle Herald a couple of weeks back.

The good professor described his experience of Alexa while he stayed in Seattle.

Alexa, you see, sorts out your shopping list. Just tell her what you want and, before long, it arrives on your doorstep.

Professor O’Neill’s article attracted a lot of attention online.

“I reckon it was because of Alexa,” he told Topics.

“It is very clever. Apparently you can train it so it gets more and more sophisticated and you can embed your own iPhone in it.”

Appliances in the US are being made to connect to Alexa.

Want to set a timer to cook pasta? Alexa’s got you covered. Want to put on some coffee, just ask Alexa. 

As well as ordering your shopping, Alexa can also give you the latest sports scores, traffic and weather reports, find a good recipe, count calories on meals, operate your lights, play music and switch on the news.

Back in the day, you might use a stopwatch or clock to keep an eye on cooking times. Now Alexa takes care of this. She’ll even let out a chime when time’s up.

This all feels like that scene in Back to the Future Part II when an ageing Marty McFly comes home and uses voice recognition to control the TV, cook pizza for dinner and talk on a video phone. 

As for Alexa, she’s winning plaudits but also attracting controversy.

“What you’ve done is installed into your house a listening device. A lot of people are concerned, especially in a country like the US, where you have high levels of electronic surveillance,” Professor O’Neill said.

“There’s huge privacy concerns, but it is amazing. What gets me with this Alexa thing, is how smoothly it works. It’s incredibly competent.”

Home automation – the so-called smart home – is already here if you can afford it. But with Amazon on its way to Australia to shake up the market, it could become a whole lot more pervasive and, we should say, invasive.

A few days back, it was reported that Amazon was planning to release a pair of Alexa-enabled smartglasses. And get this. These glasses will use “a bone-conduction audio system, which transmits sounds into the wearer’s head by vibrating their skull, rather than through headphones inserted in their ear”.

Some have derided Alexa as a glorified clock radio. Others reckon she’s a big player in the new wave of artificial intelligence in the home.

Moves at the Mall

With online behemoths like Amazon continuing their rise, what will become of our shopping malls? Will they survive?

Given their packed car parks, we can’t see them dying off anytime soon.

But we can expect them to bring in more businesses that attract the punters, like the Holey Moley mini-golf course and bar – which opened at Charlestown Square on Friday.



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