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Alexa’s Evolution

Written by Jeff Drake
10 · 02 · 23

Alexa’s Evolution

I’m not sure how many of you have an Amazon’s Alexa device. Lisa and I are only two people, but already own 3 devices (1 Alexa and 2 Echo devices). We’ve been using Alexa for some years now and we will both admit to enjoying the purchases. So, if an Alexa device has been something you are interested in, or merely curious about, you might want to read this.

My own interest in Alexa is driven by my belief in the future of the so-called, “smart home.” This is a home in which all the important electronic devices you own are interconnected and easily manageable. Believe me, we’re not there yet, but it’s definitely coming.

Our Alexa devices interconnect with our home wifi (of course), but also to our Ring security cameras and our lights. Admittedly, using wifi-enabled lights in our family room and foyer is for fun, more than anything else. Sure, we could continue to turn lights on and off manually, but why would we do that when I can just say, “Alexa, turn on the foyer,” and it just happens, from anywhere in the house, or car. Connecting Alexa to our Ring cameras has been great. At least we always know when the neighbor cat is sunning himself on our front steps!

Wait, what? Did I mention the car? That’s right… car. The Alexa app on your phone allows you to execute all the same commands remotely. For example, when we are traveling and I realize I forgot to set up a routine for our lights to turn off and on in our absence, I can simply tell Alexa via the app to do so. Routine? Yep, you can create a variety of routines for your Alexa (currently only via your phone). For example, you can set it up so that your lights turn off and off at particular times, or perhaps when you leave or enter the house. For us, traveling is the best application for this feature. It can turn different lights on at different times, giving would-be burglars some pause, thinking people are at home. Our current car is too old to have it, but some new cars have Alexa built into the car itself.

The whole wifi-enabled lights is still a work in progress, I think. At least the lights we use, from Sengled, seem to be slightly flaky. I’m going to revisit the light issue soon, as I want to put them on the front of our house, once we replace the outside light fixtures with something new and better looking. I also want to add the lights to our bedroom. Oh, one thing we do enjoy is the wifi lights are multi-colored. Ever evening when we start watching TV, we tell Alexa to turn the family room yellow. This gives a warm yellow light that is very nice for TV watching. (BTW, if you’ve never heard about it, there is a phenomenon called the “cave effect.” This happens at night watching TV in a darkened room. The walls of our family room are a darker shade of green and with the yellow lights in the evening, the walls disappear, leaving just the big screen TV picture. Very nice.)

I’m still not sold that I want Alexa to be the main controller of our future smart home. Although Alexa is in the lead, the other major players in the smart home wars are: Google, Apple, and Samsung. I haven’t taken a look at Google Nest for some time now, so I need to revisit it and see what has improved since last I looked. I really love Google, so I will look at them particularly. I have zero interest in having Apple control anything in our house. Samsung… hmm. We both like Samsung products, so this is another I will have to look at more carefully. There are more contenders waiting in the wings, of course.

BTW, we do not have an Echo Hub, a device management system from Amazon, at least not yet. I’m looking into it. Until we get more smart-home devices I’m not sure it is necessary.

I will go over this all as it transpires in the near future. In the meantime, here are some of the latest AI updates coming to Alexa. Enjoy!

Oh, and if you didn’t realize it already, Alexa is in fact, a large language model (LLM).

Lastly, the changes I write about below are NOT available yet. They are expected to roll until 4th quarter 2023, so it won’t be long!

Alexa AI enhancements:

  1. More natural conversations.

This may seem like a big nothing, but not to me. I have found my conversations with Bard to be quite enjoyable, in large part due to how very natural our conversations are.

  1. Intuitive smart home control.

Alexa will be able to process multiple smart home requests at the same time and will be able to figure out which device you’re talking about if your request doesn’t match specifically, which is nice. So, I could say, “Alexa, turn off all the lights in the house except the family room lamp.” Another nice feature is that currently you have to use your phone app to create routines, but now you can just tell Alexa to turn off all the lights every weekday at 11pm and turn on the outdoor lights.

  1. Eye Gaze on Alexa (for folks with mobility or speech problems).

Alexa will have a new accessibility feature. For someone who cannot speak, simply turning and facing Alexa you can trigger pre-set Alexa actions, like turning on the TV, music, etc.

  1. Call Translation.

You can use Alexa for both audio and video calls to friends and families. Note that his capability requires an Alexa Show device. So far, we haven’t felt the need for this. But, if we had one and wanted to talk to someone who didn’t speak English, by golly now you can do it!

  1. Alexa Emergency Assist.

You will now be able to say, “Alexa, call for help!” This will require a subscription (of course) of $59 per year.

  1. Fire TV Channels comes to Echo Show.

Again, we don’t have a Show device and if I did, I wouldn’t be interested in watching TV over it, that’d be like watching movies on a tablet.

  1. A new AI-powered Fire TV search experience and more personalized home screen.

Anything that improves being able to search for entertainment content is a plus in my book, although we don’t own a Fire TV. For those who do, this might be a winner.

  1. Character AI.

This is a play on training LLMs to specialize their learning in specific areas. Want to do world travel? Why not talk to an Alexa character that knows all about it? Got a science question? Why not talk to a character who sounds like Einstein? What is really nice is that these characters can remember your conversations and your preferences!

  1. Splash.

For the musically-inclined – you can use the new Splash service to create your own music.

  1. TalkBack Voice Comments.

If you use something called iHeart radio, you can now leave voice comments on songs which will then be received by the appropriate DJ. Hmm. Seems to me this service could go sideways, if not careful.

  1. Explore with Alexa on Amazon Kids+.

All kinds of information for kids with questions! Lots of safety precautions, of course!

  1. Marvel and Disney Character Themes.

This feature is for people with something called, Echo Pop Kids.

  1. Morning Routines & Sleep Sounds.

This is another Amazon Kids+ feature.  Built-in alarms, weather updates, stories, etc.

  1. Map View.

This is interesting!  This new feature will allow you to use your phone to scan your house layout, creating a digital map of your home on which you can pin your devices. Currently you have to use a variety of menus and screens to do this on your phone. With this feature, you can see all of your devices and where they are at in a single glance. This is an “opt-in” feature that you can turn off anytime you want to. Of course, the first phones that will be able to do this will be Apple.

  1. Two New Ways to Initiate Routines.

For sports fans… you will be able to create custom routines like having Alexa announce the start of a game and turn on your Fire TV, so you don’t miss a single Viking loss!

  1. Email to Alexa.

You will now be able to send an email to Alexa containing a trip plan. Alexa will then update your calendar with all the appropriate information.

  1. Top Connections.

This is a widget for those who use Echo Show that shows you who you are talking to the most, for easier access.

That’s it, in a nutshell! I am looking forward to the new AI improvements to Alexa, for sure.

 

Let us know what you think…

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Author

Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.