As the Echo, Alexa has had to learn a whole new version of English. So in the interests of maintaining the special relationship between the US and UK, we cleared our throats and tested how well Echo, and Alexa, recognise British words, phrases and accents.
To kick off, we found a bunch of British-flavoured Easter Eggs. Alexa will happily offer up quotes from such classic British institutions as “Monty Python”, “Blackadder” and “Fawlty Towers”. Alexa even knows the correct response to light entertainment legend Bruce Forsyth’s famous catchphrase, “Nice to see you, to see you…” “Nice!”
But that’s just the start. Not only does Alexa have to recognise a different accent, it also has to understand that some words in Britain mean something different than they do in the US. To test that out, we asked Alexa what “pants” are, and what “football” is. Happily, Alexa knows that football is played with a round ball, no matter what any former colonials say.
Alexa knows when words are spelled differently too. Set the Alexa app to UK English and when you ask your Echo to spell words like “colour” and “honour”, she will correctly enunciate the customary British “U”.
Alexa takes on different abilities when you add “skills”, sort of like apps for the Echo. Britain has a bunch of local skills, including UK news sources such as The Guardian and Sky News, and local takeaway — that’s British for “takeout” — services like JustEat.
Perhaps the toughest test for Alexa is understanding context. For example, if asking “When is the Spurs game?”, an American would probably be talking about Texan basketball team San Antonio Spurs. But a Brit would be talking about North London soccer club Tottenham Hotspur.
Amazon has done a pretty good job with teaching Alexa to understand context. For example, when we asked “Who is the Prime Minister?”, Alexa answered with the name of the current leader of the UK, even though we didn’t specify a country.
It’s not perfect: when we asked about “the national anthem”, Alexa thought we were asking about “The Star-Spangled Banner”. A proud ditty, to be sure, but not the answer we were looking for.
And if that was tough, Alexa faces a stiff test when we serve up some Cockney Rhyming Slang. ‘Ave a butchers at the video to see if Alexa can get its loaf around that load of cobblers, or if it ends up cream crackered. In other words, watch the video and see how well Alexa does with our test of Britishness. Toodle-pip, old beans!