Amazon Alexa: From science fiction to science fact

Micron Technology | January 2019

From HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” to Samantha, the operating system (and love interest) in the 2013 film “Her,” smart, capable virtual assistants have been the stuff of science fiction—until now.

“Now we have moved from science fiction to science fact,” Amazon Vice President Prem Natarajan says in this fascinating look at how Alexa, the world’s most popular virtual voice assistant, came to be, and where she is going next.

“Alexa is everywhere,” Natarajan says. In more than 80 countries and on more than 100 different devices, Alexa is playing music, opening and closing curtains, ordering pizza, and even answering complex mathematical questions with increasing accuracy and speed. And she is getting better, he says: understanding context, gaining knowledge, responding more naturally, and even teaching herself for better, and smarter, interactions with individual users.

What makes it possible, he says, is artificial intelligence, enabled by advances in memory, storage and processing thanks to companies such as Micron.

“We live in a very instrumented world that has access to massive amounts of data. For the first time we’re able to pump all that data into our algorithms and learning techniques and produce complex capabilities.”

Today, Alexa has nearly 50,000 skills—and she is just getting started. Natarajan’s “sneak peek” into her capabilities in the near future may astonish you. Is there anything she won’t be able to do?

“This is like a bicycle race,” says Natarajan. “We are the very start of the race. We know it’s going to be a long ride, but it looks like a super exciting ride.”