Alexa and Amazon Echo

I received my Amazon Echo order earlier last week. Amazon doesn’t ship the device to Turkey yet so I had to order it from a seller on the N11 marketplace. The cost of buying the device this way is about twice the $180 list price on Amazon.

The Alexa app (Alexa is the voice assistant that powers the Amazon Echo) which you need to set up the Amazon Echo is also not available in Turkey, so I downloaded a prior version from the APKMirror website.

Fortunately, after going through these troubles to buy and set up the Echo in Turkey, I discovered that the experience is well worth it.

The main use case I found for the Echo is having it play music. I connected my Spotify account to the Alexa app and, simply by saying “Alexa, play X by Y on Spotify” (where X is the name of the song and Y is the name of the singer), I get to listen to all of the songs available on my Spotify account. The speaker quality is great but that’s just table stakes. What differentiates the experience is the ability to listen to music by simply saying what you want to listen to. That’s a much more fluid experience than looking for music by typing and clicking on your smartphone or laptop.

I also used the Echo to get weather forecasts for the upcoming day before heading out in the morning. Once again, it’s a much better user experience to get the weather this way than by typing and clicking on a smartphone or laptop screen.

Alexa is currently an example of weak artificial intelligence (AI). It only understands and responds to a narrow range of requests which are communicated to it with a predefined syntax. And the range of requests that it responds to (like playing music and sharing the weather) are indeed pretty narrow. For example, Alexa isn’t able to share what’s showing on TV. Whenever you make a request that its current capabilities cannot respond to, Alexa simply states that it can’t carry out the task. And since it delivers such a great experience in areas like music and the weather, you’re quick to forgive its lack of performance in other use cases.

However, it’s easy to imagine a future where Alexa is integrated with a much broader range of data sources like TV guides, restaurant discovery and reservation platforms, and travel booking sites. And Alexa will become more and more useful with each new integration. We’re in the initial innings of a ball game where Alexa can develop into an irreplaceable household device by simply accommodating more and more weak AI tasks.

The holy grail will occur when we eventually develop strong AI (that is, a machine with the intellectual capability of a human), but Alexa and the Amazon Echo are already very useful in its absence.

Also published on Medium.