Amazon is continually making improvements on their intelligent personal assistant, Alexa, to rival the likes of Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant. A useful tool was recently added to the voice-controlled virtual assistant — the ability to make phone calls.
Alexa’s calling functionality was teased last month, with Recode recently confirming that the feature will grace new Amazon devices. Alexa is currently available in select Fire tablets, the Huawei Mate 9, Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and the portable Bluetooth speaker, Tap.
The upcoming Alexa-enabled devices are expected to make phone calls with someone who uses a speaker controlled by the digital assistant. That scenario is akin to an intercom system.
Amazon got ahead of Google in this scenario. It was reported in February that Google is also planning to integrate the functionality in its virtual assistant, but it seems that Amazon has beaten them to the punch.
It is expected for Amazon’s customers to have some qualms with Alexa’s rumored calling feature, but the company would likely find a way to protect users’ privacy and sensitive information. According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon may only record metadata such as phone numbers or call durations. It’s curious, though, how they will handle other details such as how phone numbers and contacts will be handled once it’s in the digital assistant’s system.
Alexa is capable of understanding and following more and more advanced commands. The virtual assistant can set a timer, lock and turn on your device. Alexa, however, was criticized for uncontrolled and accidental shopping orders — usually done unknowingly by little kids.
It was also reported recently that Amazon’s Echo line of speakers will soon have advanced voice-recognition skills. That will make Alexa capable of distinguishing different users’ respective voices.
Alexa’s reaches don’t stop in electronic devices. Amazon has launched a program that will allow students to study complicated technology problems by working on the virtual assistant.
The program will be offered to Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Southern California and Canada’s University of Waterloo. Students will learn the process of converting text and comprehending conversations, among others, NDTV reported.
For instance, students at the University of Waterloo will teach Alexa-controlled air conditioners how to normalize a room’s temperature without the user saying a specific number in Celsius. Aside from schools, Amazon also tapped third-party developers to teach additional skills to Alexa so it will get smarter and grow up faster than its closest rivals.