Amazon Echo and the Alexa personal assistant are pretty cool inventions. Alexa's voice recognition capaibilities allow Echo to provide a variety of services, including home entertainment, shopping, and home automation control. Amazon is unbundling Alexa from the confines of Echo and letting developers use its APIs to create all manner of apps for Alexa.
[ Want to learn more about Echo? Read Amazon Echo: My First 10 Days. ]
It's not like we haven't had voice activation before, but this can be backed up by Amazon Web Services and provides a robust set of tools to make voice activation become a big part of the Internet of Things (IoT). That's important considering IoT is going to require a lot of different alternative input methods and user experiences. Here's a (partially serious) list of what we'd like to see developers do with Alexa.
10 Things We Want Alexa To Do
1. Cut us off like a bartender. You know how when you've had one too many at the bar, the bartender cuts you off for your own protection? I'd like an Alexa app that recognizes how drunk I might be when I order something on Amazon. If I say, "Alexa, order 500 copies of the next Michael Bolton CD," I want it to recognize from the slur of my speech that I'm drunk, and cancel the order.
2. Save us from a stroke. One of the early signs of a stroke is slurred or difficult speech. While I joked about cutting people off, Alexa could also passively monitor speech in a room, and if the patterns in the voices change over time, it could provide a warning to the people in the room and ask if they need medical care.
3. Argue with me. Why should we have all the fun on social media?
4. Provide security. If Alexa is passively monitoring voices in a room, it could monitor them for signs of stress or words like "help" or "stop." For example, if there's a home invasion, Alexa could recognize a new voice demanding money or jewelry. It could then ask those in the room if they needed help. Passwords and panic words could also be programmed like a traditional security system to avoid false alarms and help victims.
5. Detect cancer. Certain types of cancers, especially those that involve the throat and lungs, can affect the voice. Having long-term records of people's voices in order to track changes over time could help with early detection of very serious cancers.
6. Call my mother. This would be nice for Siri, too. The advantage of having Alexa do it is that Alexa can also send her flowers. All I need Alexa to do is learn to imitate my voice. Then, when my mother asks me how the kids are doing, Alexa can check Facebook and tell her.
7. Become Google Maps for my house. When you host a party, new visitors might be uncomfortable to ask where the bathroom is. Now, guests can ask Alexa.
8. Sing duets. One of the best parts about Alexa is the connection to Amazon's Cloud Music Service. But what if I'm alone in the house? Who is going to be the Marie to my Donny?
9. Allow me to say "make it so" and "engage" to my computer like Capt. Picard. If Alexa will really run other hardware, I want the chance to say "Computer, scan system for malware. Engage." And, with Amazon one-hour delivery, I might even be able to order "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."
10. Talk to Amazon customer support for me. Why should I wait on hold? Why can't I tell Alexa my problem, and then have it tell Amazon?