Why was it invented? The story behind Alexa



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Did you know that Star Trek is the reason we have Alexa today? 

Amazon Alexa,  or Alexa,  is a virtual assistant AI technology developed by Amazon and first used in the Amazon Echo smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. In simple terms, it's a voice that works to make your life lazier and easier. It is the first screen-less smart assistant to be developed.

Why the first "screen-less" you ask? The Alexa counterparts like Siri, Google assistant, Microsoft cortana need your mobile phone or a laptop - something that houses the computing platform.

Alexa was launched along with Amazon Echo in November 2014 . (The Amazon Echo is one of a range of hands-free speakers and devices from Amazon that can be controlled with your voice)

It is capable of voice interaction, all you have to do is say the 'wake' word. It will perform various tasks for you like playing music, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts or playing audiobooks, telling you the weather or current-event news.

Users are able to extend the Alexa capabilities by installing "skills" (additional functionality developed by third-party vendors, in other settings more commonly called apps)

How does it work ? A designated "wake word" (the default is simply "Alexa") alerts an Alexa-enabled device of an ensuing function command. Alexa listens for the command and performs the appropriate function, or skill, to answer a question or command. Alexa's question answering ability is partly powered by the Wolfram Language. 

Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the Starship Enterprise or USS Enterprise - the fictional spacecraft for various television series and films in the Star Trek science fiction franchise, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But why "Alexa" ? Amazon developers chose the name Alexa because it has a hard consonant with the X, which helps it be recognized with higher precision. They have said the name is reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria, which is also used by Amazon Alexa Internet for the same reason.

According to reports , In the 2017 holiday season alone, Amazon had sold “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices worldwide”


What is the story behind the development?

In 2004, Amazon founded Amazon Lab126 in Sunnyvale, California.  The number in the name " 126 "  was derived from the arrow in Amazon’s logo, which points from A to Z,  meaning from the 1st to the 26th alphabet.

The labs had codenamed their ongoing projects as Project A , Project B, and Project C. They were independent and under strict confidentiality. Project A was the Amazon Kindle e-reader which we are all familiar with. Project B did not fare well.  

Meanwhile , according to patents filed by Amazon-related entity Rawles LLC, the Project C was a technologically aggressive plan. “One of the initial patent applications described a device that would display augmented-reality images that people could interact with; another proposed tracking people’s movements and responding when they clapped, whistled, sang, or spoke. Taken together, Amazon’s patents during this period point toward a vision of a home where virtual displays follow people around as they wander from room to room, offering a range of services in response to voice commands and physical gestures.”

But failure of Project B discouraged the management and thus came about Project D. They decided to ditch the visual and kinetic and made it solely a voice-interactive platform.

In late 2014, an engineer rigged the speaker to control a streaming TV device. This case inspired Bezos to vision Echo as the hub for the smart home. For the research and development of conversational products like Alexa, Amazon had several hundred employees worked on the project in its Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area and Cambridge, MA offices. Additionally, In June 2015, Amazon announced the Alexa Fund, a program that would invest in companies making voice control skills and technologies. In 2016, the Alexa Prize was announced to further advance the technology

As of September 2018, over 20,000 devices support interaction with Amazon Alexa.Besides the Echo devices from Amazon (Amazon Echo ,Amazon Echo Dot,Amazon Echo Look etc) It is also available on a lot of third-party devices like speakers or TVs as well as through the Alexa app on phones. Alexa is also available in some cars .

In November 2018, Amazon opened its first Alexa-themed pop-up shop inside of Toronto's Eaton Centre, showcasing the use of home automation products with Amazon's smart speakers


A smart technological device is not without its problems. The project details as stated above makes it sound like the protagonist of Netflix's You is creeping around your house. The privacy breach is of concern to many. In fact one report stated that Alexa recorded a family's conversation and emailed it to a random person on their contact list. Amazon's response was to blame it on Alexa misinterpreting the background conversation as a command because it is always listening to catch the wake word.

Do you have an Amazon Echo? Let us know below. 

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