Alexa is a virtual digital assistant developed by Amazon for its Amazon Echo and Echo Dot line of computing devices. Alexa's capabilities mimic those of other intelligent assistants such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby.
Alexa responds to voice control by returning information on products (on Amazon of course), music, news, weather, sports and more. The back-end engine for Amazon's Alexa runs on Amazon Web Services in the cloud, enabling Alexa to learn an individual or family's preferences and expand its functionality over time.
In addition to the Echo products, Alexa is also supported by Amazon's Fire HD tablet and Fire TV set-top box products. A few select third-party products have started to support Alexa as well, including the Nucleus Intercom, Ford SYNC automobile infotainment systems and Invoxia's Triby speaker and message system.
How Alexa Works
Alexa gets its name from the ancient library of Alexandria, and it can be activated by first saying a trigger word (either "Alexa" by default or "Echo," "Amazon" or "Computer," based on your preferences), followed by your query or request. Alexa uses natural language interpretation to process and act upon requests.
In addition to returning information, Alexa also enables Echo devices to function as smart home hubs that can control Internet of Things connected devices like smart lights, thermostats and electronics.
Beyond its built-in capabilities, Alexa offers more than 3,000 "Skills" from Amazon and third-party developers that users can add to extend Alexa's functionality, including one for IFTTT, which can help coordinate and automate interaction between other connected devices.
Privacy Concerns with Alexa
Alexa is only designed to send short query and request information following being triggered, but it is always listening in the background for its trigger word.
With Alexa always listening for its trigger command when conversations take place within its range, and because Alexa continually collects data to learn more about the users interacting with it, its use has raised privacy concerns among some.
Amazon Echo devices do feature a mute button that will disable the device’s microphones, but users do need to physically press the button in order for Alexa to stop listening.
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