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Tech trends for 2015: Intelligent virtual assistants

With Siri's "new little sister" Alexa set for launch, 2015 will be the year that tech giants up their game when it comes to intelligent personal assistants...

“Alexa shows that Amazon doesn’t want to be a destination anymore; they don’t want to be something you have to go to; they want to be ubiquitous” – TechCrunch

First there was Apple’s Siri, then Google Now, Samsung's S Voice and so on but what with the announcement of Amazon’s super intelligent Alexa last month, there's little doubt that 2015 will hail a new series of personal assistants as the rivalry between tech firms heats up.

Not all that far off from the eery operating system “Samantha” portrayed in the recent sci-fi movie Her, “Alexa” otherwise known as Amazon Echo is a voice activated device which responds to a user’s voice and can act on requests and answer questions from “what day is it?” to “add bread to my shopping list”.

How then, is it different to Siri you may ask? Well this device is not just limited to knowledge-based commands, it also operates as a speaker so you can tell it to “play music by Beyonce” and it will do just that, and what's more it can hear you from anywhere in the room and is always on. Likened to a digital encyclopedia for your home, Amazon's virtual assistant device constantly gets smarter by pulling and storing information from the cloud to answer your every question. It's even predicted that over time, the device will be able to adapt to a user’s speech pattern and preferences. At the moment, Alexa is only available via invitation but Amazon has hinted in its press materials that it will become widely available over the next year.

Amazon won't be leading the technology for long though; Apple's expected to hit back with a new version of Siri that will do all this and more in the near future, alongside other competitors in the space.

How it works

Taking Amazon's Alexa system as an example, intelligent virtual assistants are based on a combination of mobile devices, application programming interfaces (APIs), and mobile apps that respond to user-voice commands. For instance with Amazon Echo, users can start the device up by saying the wake up word “Alexa” and then ask it to perform specific one-time tasks alongside ongoing tasks autonomously. Virtual assistants can also update information often without any user initiation or interaction.

Although when it comes to the motivations for creating intelligent virtual assistants, TechCrunch argues it's more about the opportunity to increase profits than to advance technology:


“Alexa is a personal assistant in a tube! […] Amazon doesn’t want to be a destination anymore; they don’t want to be something you have to go to; they want to be ubiquitous.

“But let’s be clear here on what this thing is beyond that — or what it will be. Amazon is not in the business of telling you whether or not it will rain tomorrow. Nor is it in the business of waking you up in the morning. Amazon is in the business of selling you things — and that is why Echo exists.”


(will not be published)