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Alexa, AWS, and Our Future in the Cloud

November 23, 2016  |  Written by Ben Gonyea, Vice President, Product Management

Until recently, speaking to an appliance in one’s home was generally a sign of frustration, an indication that things were not going as planned. But recently, that has started to change. Largely thanks to Amazon’s popular new smart home speaker, Echo, and its smaller sibling, the Echo Dot, people around the world are speaking to an appliance, and that appliance is listening...and speaking back.

But many of those users might be surprised to find out that the technology that powers the weather-telling, workout-starting, music-playing AI in the Echo (called Alexa) isn’t some incredibly sophisticated piece of hardware housed in the sleek matte black cylindrical casing. It’s actually a service living in Amazon’s cloud called Alexa Voice Services (AVS).

When you activate the device using the wake word “Alexa,” it starts recording your voice. When you are finished speaking, it sends the clip to AVS, which then instantaneously processes the information and sends the response back in the form of Alexa’s spoken response. If it’s too complicated or esoteric of a query, the response will often be a simple, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

But, even if it can’t figure out what I mean when I ask “how big is the isle of Islay in Scotland,” that might not be the case for long. The AI inside the Echo is getting smarter. It’s also becoming more interconnected. With the recent release of Alexa Skills Kit, hardware makers will now have the option to integrate Alexa’s technology into their own smart devices, paving the way for potential smart homes of the future.

While making the Alexa Skills Kit free and available may seem odd to some, it’s clear we are heading for an open source future. Much like what we are seeing with other cloud services, smart home providers see the value in making their products open source and cross-compatible. Amazon is not the only major company pushing the boundaries of AI and cloud services. Apple users will be very familiar with Siri, the original voice-activated assistant, and Google has recently released its smart home speaker system, Google Home.

Today, everybody already has a device in their pocket that relies on countless cloud apps to provide functions from entertainment to organization and everything in between. Now, many more people will begin to rely on smart devices in the home that are equally dependent on cloud to run. The emergence of these types of technologies ought to make it clear to IT professionals across all industries that a robust, comprehensive cloud solution is an absolute must today.

If you’re interested in learning more about Alexa and the technology behind the Amazon Echo, we encourage you to attend the Alexa breakout session at AWS re:Invent November 28-December 2 in Las Vegas. If you’d like to meet with Digital Realty during the event and learn more about how Digital Realty’s Service Exchange can help future-proof your IT strategy, click here