The dream that drove Amazon engineers to invent its voice service, Alexa, was driven by Star Trek.
They were trying to replicate the “computer” in Star Trek, which always answered and work when any Star Trek crew simply called out the word “computer,” David Limp, the vice president in charge of Amazon Devices told attendees at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, on Tuesday.
The problem was choosing a word that people didn’t ordinarily use in everyday life. “Computer” wouldn’t cut it. So after testing various names, the team landed on a word Alexa, that used soft vowels and an “x.” It sounded fairly unique.
But the engineers also liked the name for that somewhat geeky Star Trek-ish reason. It was “a little reminiscent of the library of Alexander” which was at one time the keeper of “all knowledge,” Limp said.
The idea was you could ask Alexa anything, and it would know and answer.
For now, however, most of what people are asking Alexa to do doesn’t require it to be that smart. People are mostly asking it to play music or adjust their thermostat, Limp said.
You can also train Alexa and Echo to order your car.
Another favourite skill that does require a bit more knowledge, is “cat facts,” he adds.
For those with a fairly childish sense of humour, there’s also a skill where you can ask Alexa to make noises that are, shall we say, similar to the ones your digestive system makes when you eat too many beans.
And for those people who are named Alexa (or something similar), or have pets with that name, and feel that they can never own an Echo, Limb says not so. There’s a setting in the app that lets you choose between two other “wake words,” Limb says: “Amazon” or “Echo.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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