What exactly is Alexa? Where does she come from? How does she work?

What exactly is Alexa? Where does she come from? How does she work?

You’ve probably heard the name “Alexa.” You know, the name you call out when you want to interact with Amazon’s virtual assistant? Well, provided you own an Echo or some other Alexa-enabled device. Amazon’s assistant is a female voice that talks to you in a conversational manner, ready to help you with many tasks. She has been integrated into several of the company’s products and is starting to find her way into third-party devices, like GE lamps and the Sonos One speaker. Amazon is also starting to put Alexa into wearables, headphones, and all sorts of other gadgets. Alexa can perform a variety of simple tasks, like playing music, but you can also use Alexa in your smart home to dim the lights, lock the doors, adjust the thermostat, and control other smart home devices.

While “Alexa” has become synonymous with products like the Echo, you can’t actually go out and buy an “Alexa.” Just like you can buy an iPhone with “Siri” on it, but you can’t go buy a “Siri.” You need to have a device that has the voice assistant built-in. So what is Alexa exactly? Here’s everything you need to know about Amazon’s virtual assistant.

Who/What is Alexa?

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For most people, all you really have to know about Alexa is that it’s the name of the voice that comes out of Alexa-enabled speakers. Basically, Alexa is to Amazon what Siri is to Apple. Alexa is a voice that you can ask questions and get answers to, such as “what is the weather today in Chicago?”

But really, what exactly is Alexa? When you ask Alexa a question, what you’re doing is communicating with a cloud-based service. Amazon has designed the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to mimic real conversations, but you’re actually using intuitive voice commands to get this service to perform specific tasks. “Alexa” is simply the “wake word” that alerts the service to start listening to your voice. For most devices, you just have to say it to get a response.

Here’s how Amazon describes the Alexa Voice Service on its developer page:

“The Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is Amazon’s intelligent voice recognition and natural language understanding service that allows you to voice-enable any connected device that has a microphone and speaker.”

While Alexa is the official name for Amazon’s voice assistant, you can change this wake word to “Amazon,” “Computer,” or “Echo.” That’s a useful feature, especially if your name or your partner’s or roommate’s name happens to be Alexa or something that sounds similar.

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Where can I use Alexa?

In order to use Alexa, you’ll need a device that integrates the voice technology. This typically means an Amazon device, such as an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show, but this cloud-based personal voice assistant has also been integrated into the Echo Auto, and with some third-party systems. Devices like the Fire TV are also compatible with Alexa, as are some third-party devices: the Ecobee Switch+ light switch, the LG InstaView refrigerator, and the aforementioned Sonos One speaker. Someone even programmed Alexa to work with a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

Alexa has also become the center of many smart-home systems, including Wink, SmartThings, and the Logitech Harmony. You can also use the voice-assistant to build your smart home piecemeal, as Alexa can also pair with hubless devices such as WeMo switches and Nest thermostats.

Here is a list of smart-home devices that are compatible with Alexa.

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What can Alexa do?

The list of commands that Alexa can understand seems to grow on a daily basis. Amazon calls these “skills,” and now you can even create your own skills through Amazon Blueprints. Upon review from Amazon, you can even publish your own skills in the Amazon Skills Store for other people to use on their Alexa devices.