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Alexa Voice Services (AVS)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is Amazon's suite of services built around its voice-controlled AI assistant for the home and other environments. AVS and Alexa were first introduced with Echo, the company's intelligent speaker, which enables voice interaction with various systems in the environment and online. Alexa is available for an ever-increasing number of other devices, including smart phones, tablets and remote controls.

AVS is tightly integrated with Amazon's e-commerce environment, which means that it makes purchases fast and simple. The system can operate as a home automation hub, allowing the user to control heating and lighting systems, for example. Alexa also connects to streaming media services online, and supports If This Then That (IFTTT), an online service that automates Web-based tasks so that when user-specified events occur, follow-up tasks are triggered and handled.

In the AVS environment, services are known as skills. Hurricane Center, for example, is an Alexa skill that provides constantly updated information on storm systems, based on data from government agencies. A skill called Virtual Librarian is essentially a recommendation engine that suggests books, based on awards nominations, bestseller lists and user reviews. Alexa Skills Kit, a software development kit (SDK), is made freely available to developers and skills are available for instant download from Amazon.com.

Here are a few of the many things that a user can do through AVS:

  • Listen to an audiobook.
  • Get sports scores.
  • Request information similarly to inputting a search query.
  • Order take-out.
  • Make reservations.
  • Add items to a shopping list.
  • Have a recipe read to you as you cook.
  • Perform mathematical calculations.
  • Play music.
  • Listen to music from streaming services.

Alexa's main competitor is Google Assistant. Alexa, Google Assistant and similar technologies may be ushering in the preliminary stages of pervasive computing: a scenario in which people interact naturally with unobtrusive computing devices located throughout our environment.

The name Alexa was chosen partially for its sound, which makes it easy for speech recognition software to identify it. Alexa is also a reference to the ancient Library of Alexandria, which was known as the "keeper of all knowledge."

This was last updated in March 2017

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