Unless you are a technology ‘geek’, most people wouldn’t have paid much attention to ‘bots’ or ‘virtual assistants’ until relatively recently. We’ve seen and maybe occasionally used Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, but their utility was perceived to be limited to doing hands-free searches. How little we knew! The investment in AI, and especially Natural Language Processing (NLP) by the big players, has revealed their true value. It’s slowly dawning on more and more users that these assistants can do far more than just retrieve search results, including managing messaging apps, calendars, to-do lists and much much more.
What appears to have caught out the vendors mentioned above is the massive strides that Amazon has taken in the field of AI. Amazon started developing a high-precision microphone and sophisticated voice recognition system a full 12 months before its competitors and has gained a significant headstart. The big difference with other AI assistants is that instead of a single piece of software, Alexa uses thousands of its own and third party apps (which Amazon calls “skills”) to provide the device’s different capabilities. This creates a system that is far more integrated and sophisticated yet simple to use with minimal setup.
Amazon’s Echo doesn’t just let you switch on your music by voice command. It uses an artificial intelligence assistant app called Alexa to allow users to access the information and services of the internet and control personal organisation tools. You can order a pizza or a taxi, or check the weather or your diary, all by just speaking to Alexa. In this way, it is similar to Apple’s Siri but has advances in microphone and AI technology that make it significantly more accurate than past devices in understanding and executing commands – and from anywhere in your home that it can hear you.
I’ve been living with Amazon Echo for just over 8 months now, having purchased it as soon as it was released for sale in the UK (it had been limited to US sales for the previous 12 months). I continue to be amazed by its continually evolving list of skills, and though I use it mainly for playing music, my interactions with Alexa have become part of my daily routine, and ‘she’ now manages my diary, my to-do list, and is my first point of reference for listening to the latest news, sport and weather, or finding out what’s playing at my local cinema. But there’s also a fun element, where developers have created specific responses to questions and commands. I doubt it would be possible to list all of these, but the following is a random and eclectic selection.
If you’re reading this and have an Alexa in your home, and would like to share some of the more interesting/funny exchanges you’ve had with Alexa, let me know and I’ll add them to my list.
If you’re brand new to the Amazon Echo and/or having any problems setting it up, this useful Beginners Guide may be of some help.
A few things you could try…but don’t let these suggestions constrain your own imagination!
Prefix each question or command with “Alexa”
|open robot pick-up lines||what is ‘Knowledge Management’?|
|what’s in a Singapore Sling?||who is Alan Turing?|
|find a movie||ask ‘Just Eat’ where’s my meal?|
|what’s my Flash briefing?||play the Grand Tour playlist|
|what’s the weather?||hello HAL|
|what am I doing tomorrow?||HAL, open the pod bay doors|
|give me a recipe for dinner?||do you know HAL?|
|play the best of prime playlist||spell xxxx (insert your own word)|
|what’s this playing?||what is the meaning of life?|
|tune into radio 4||how much does the earth weigh?|
|enable ‘Radioplayer’ skill….
ask Radioplayer to recommend a station
|what do you think of Siri?|
|play 90’s Dinner Party playlist||is there a Santa?|
|add xxxx to my to-do list||is the tooth fairy real?|
|add xxxx to my shopping list||do you know the muffin man?|
|what is your favourite colour?||what is the square root of xxxx?|
|where am I?||how far away is the moon?|
|what is your quest?||I was born in xxxx, how old am I?|
|Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?||what came first, the chicken or the egg?|
|I am your father.||I want the truth!|
|how much is that doggie in the window?||mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?|
|Knock, Knock||what are your latest skills?|
|what do you want to be when you grow up?||Rock, Paper, Scissors|
|beam me up||play relaxing music|
|do you speak Klingon?||what’s the first rule of Fight Club?|
|surely you can’t be serious?||winter is coming|
|what are the laws of robotics?||how much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”|
|see you later alligator.||can you pass the Turing test?|
|who is the walrus?||who killed Cock Robin?|
|heads or tails||who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?|
|who you gonna call?||how do you know so much about swallows|
|why do birds suddenly appear?||who is the mother of dragons?|
|party on Wayne!||is Jon Snow dead?|
|play it again Sam||do you feel lucky punk?|
|speak like Yoda||klattu barada nikto|
|what did the Romans ever do for us?||play British History Quiz|
|ask National Rail to plan a journey||play the most popular songs from xxxx( insert a year)|
|play the song that goes “I’m going where the sun keeps shining”. (Insert your own lyric abstract).||open The Grand Tour.|
|what’s on in my local cinema?||tell me a Star Wars joke.|
|I have a cunning plan.||what is the code of the Jedi?|
|set an alarm for 7am||set a timer for 4 minutes|
|enable ‘Beat The Intro’ skill…
open ‘Beat The Intro”
|find me an Italian restaurant|
|play talkSport on TuneIn||enable ‘Space Station’ skill….
ask Space Station for time of next pass over my location
|enable the ‘Uber’ skill….
ask Uber to order an Uber Express
|enable the ‘7-Minute Workout’ skill….
start 7-Minute Workout
|enable the ‘Jamie Oliver’ skill….
find me a fish recipe from Jamie Oliver
|play the song that goes “throw those curtain wide”|
| open ‘Space Station’ skill…
ask Space Station who is on board
ask Space Station for the latest news
|add an event to my calendar
what’s on my calendar?
|what’s up?|| remind me to get my car serviced
what’s on my reminders?
|let’s play a game||play ‘In Our Time’ podcast on Tunein|
|what films are playing?||when is [film] playing?|
|let’s play a game||play ‘In Our Time’ podcast on Tunein|
|open “Thunderstorm Sounds”||open “Ocean Sounds”|
| open ‘Recipedia’
ask Recipedia for a quick chicken recipe
ask Recipedia for a risotto recipe
| open ‘easyJet’
ask easyJet if flight 8581 is on time
|open TED talks
ask TED talks to find a talk about <Artificial Intelligence>
| open ‘Cleanipedia”
(provides tips on cleaning)
|I have a cunning plan.|