Amazon has just launched Echo – a cloud-connected personal assistant that can help with everything from homework to housekeeping, answering an infinite number of questions and adding items to your shopping list through simple voice commands.
So while Google has been concentrating on nightmarish robot dog lords of the future, and Apple has been pushing it watch on an underwhelmed world, has Amazon crept in the back door and won the battle of the personal assistants?
Back in 2010 Apple bought SIRI (Speech Interpretation Recognition Interface) – an app that worked as a voice activated personal assistant and knowledge navigator – from developers Siri Inc. so it could integrate the feature in its future iOs platforms to give its hardware a more personal touch.
Siri was introduced as an iPhone 4s feature on its release in 2011 and has been an integral part of iOs since iOs5. Siri is also a key part of Apple Watch’s watchOs and Apple TV’s tvOs, and has subsequently been included on all mobile Apple hardware manufactured since October 2012.
Although most of us just ask Siri silly questions to see what answer comes back – “Siri, can you beatbox?” is always a good one to ask – her real purpose is as a voice-controlled personal assistant that can help you with everything from making a dinner reservation to sending a message.
You can ask her questions, tell her to show you something or give her with commands which she’ll carry out for you, completely hands-free.
Microsoft was a little slow on the uptake when it came to introducing the world to its own personal assistant – the slightly clunky-sounding Cortana – unveiling her to the world at 2014’s Microsoft BUILD Developer Conference.
Named after a synthetic intellingence character from Microsoft’s Halo video game franchise, Cortana was launched as a key part of the company’s planned makeover of all its future operating systems for Windows and Windows Phone.
And she works in much the same way as Siri – you can ask Cortana pretty much anything, from jokes to the latest news updates, and she will also sync with your calendar to set reminders for key dates should you need them.
Amazon has recently launched itself headlong into the smartphone market – a risky business space where the big players already have a majority market share – and it’s safe to say its first offering was a bit of a failure.
The Amazon Fire Phone is pretty much a shopping tool for Amazon with a few smartphone features thrown in.
That minor setback hasn’t put Amazon off the hardware game though, and if Amazon Echo takes off it may have just pulled the best marketing masterstroke since Apple turned us all on to tablets.
Echo is a cloud-connected piece of kit that houses Alexa, Amazon’s own personal assistant app, and unlike the other offerings that are attached to individual devices, Echo is designed to stand alone in any part of the house so the whole family can pick Alexa’s brains.
Worryingly, as this video shows, when Alexa is asked “When is the end of the world?”, she answers “Unless is collides with a very large rock or a future technology goes very wrong…”
Now, what future technologies could possibly go wrong and start a series of events that leads to the end of the world..?
Alexa v Siri
Is this another step closer to fully functioning robot servant? Let us know your thoughts…