Amazon Funds Fellowships to Boost Alexa's Skills (AMZN, GOOG)

Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) is looking to students to help it grow the skill set of its smart assistant Alexa. According to a Reuters report, the Seattle-based company is paying for a year of doctoral fellowships for research related to expanding Alexa’s capabilities. The members of the Alexa Fund, as the program is known, are Carnegie Mellon, John Hopkins, University of Southern California and University of Waterloo. The Reuters report quotes Douglas Booms, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development, as saying that the company wants Alexa to be a “great sandbox” for students. (See also: Alexa, Who Won CES This Year?)

The John Hopkins website has more specifics about the program. According to the site, groups of two to four master’s students at the university will devise and test novel algorithms for speech and natural language processing and speaker recognition. The Alexa Fund will mentor and guide these students. Examples of novel algorithms could include teaching Alexa to communicate with various objects around a home and performing automated tasks, such as lowering the temperature to a specific range. (See also: Amazon Touts Alexa’s Music Playing Capability.)

Speech recognition research relies heavily on pattern recognition. It has exploded since the turn of the century as data from services, whether they relate to online browsing habits or healthcare, have multiplied. Amazon is locked in a heated battle with Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) subsidiary Google’s Home, Microsoft Corporation’s (MSFT) Cortana and Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) Siri to gain control of home automation using smart assistants. (See also: How Does Google Home Compare With Amazon’s Alexa?)

Unlike its competitors, Amazon has enlisted third-party developers to enhance the skill set for its device. Alexa already has 10,000 skills that enable users to perform a variety of tasks, from ordering pizza delivery to checking up on weather. However, the absence of communication standards between Internet of Things objects has hampered the growth of the IoT ecosystem. (See also: 2 Internet of Things (IoT) Stocks for 2017.)