How Does the New Amazon Echo Measure Up?

A personal AI assistant has been the promise of futurist fiction and technology for some time. However, from Siri to Cortana, and all the way back to AOL bot SmarterChild, these digital personas have never quite lived up to the standard set by our imaginations.

But with the release of the Amazon Echo – a smart speaker containing an intelligent personal assistant named Alexa – all this could be about to change. One thing that bodes well is that, unlike previous digital helpers, Alexa is no add-on; without her, the Echo is nothing more than a speaker, whereas, in the case of phone AIs, consumers were far more interested in the broader specs and utilities of the handsets themselves than assistants like Siri.

That Alexa will be more advanced than her predecessors goes without saying. What will put her and the Echo to the test though, is rather the question of whether even an advanced AI can offer truly useful assistance when it’s bound to what is, after all, just a speaker.

Below we look at three activities as examples of the potential use of such a personal assistant and see whether the Echo will measure up.

Playing Bingo


With online casino games proving more and more popular among younger audiences, bingo seems like the perfect choice for a device that lives to speak. The Echo allows you to play hands-free, which is a bonus, but actually falls short in one serious way.

Part of the main reason for millennial interest in the once-forgotten game are the chat spaces offered by many online, screen-based providers. Sites like mFortune offer the chance to chat with your friends while playing, and even free bingo no deposit offers for first-timers. In this instance, traditional devices just have more to offer than the Echo, which currently can’t do much more than call out the winning numbers and tell you whether you’ve won.

Checking the weather


Alexa can be relied upon to give you a description of the weather on any given day, to provide a weather forecast, and even to answer complex, context-dependent questions like “do I need an umbrella today?”. This last case is particularly impressive, as it demonstrates a sophisticated degree of situational understanding.

On this count, the Echo is much more useful than a smartphone, seeing as you’ll be able to operate it hands-free and probably while attending to some other task. In this sense, Alexa is a better assistant than most AIs.

Playing music


Here’s where the Echo really comes into its own. Because it’s integrated with your other services, you can tell Alexa to “play music from your Spotify” or from your PC. Furthermore, Alexa can recognize different categories of music, leading to a more interpersonal experience of selecting music in which you describe what you want and she – it – understands and accommodates you.
Here the Echo comes out on top, also for the reason that, it being a speaker itself, there is no cause for the usual kerfuffle surrounding finding the right jack for your smartphone, and then having your device out of hand while the music plays.

The Echo is certainly an impressive device, and Alexa an impressive AI. It may be that, rather than comparing the Echo to a smartphone, it would be wiser to think about what new functions a speaker-based device could perform – with an emphasis on fast or real-time updates rather than competition.

Source for main image: Deutsche TeleKom AG via Facebook