Speech Technology Magazine

The 2016 Speech Industry Star Performers: Amazon

By Paul Korzeniowski - Posted Aug 1, 2016
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Amazon’s Next Financial Pillar: Speech Recognition

Searching for information via text-based queries has never been easy. Individuals need to input information correctly, and the results often come back with irrelevant data. Amazon is taking a lead position in the movement to dramatically change search: replacing traditional search with voice recognition solutions and making it easier for consumers to find and order whatever they want. That work landed the company a Speech Technology magazine Star Performer award.

Voice search is becoming a popular alternative to text-based search. In fact, Global Web Index found that nearly one in five adults had used voice search features on their mobile devices within the past month.

Tech vendors like Amazon have been enhancing voice systems to make them more useful to consumers. Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant, Alexa, helps consumers select music, check bank balances, order food, and summon Uber rides.

Delivering such capabilities is becoming a big business. The worldwide market for intelligent voice-activated virtual assistants is expected to reach $3.1 billion in 2020, according to a study by Grand View Research.

Amazon has been trying to position its system as the top player in this emerging market. The company’s voice-controlled digital assistant had a busy year, upping its game and expanding the list of services consumers rely on to buy products via simple voice commands.

Building up the ecosystem and encouraging software developers to create various buying experiences, which are similar in concept to mobile applications, has been one area of emphasis. “Less than a year ago we released the Alexa Skills Kit, making it possible for any developer to create voice experiences for Alexa,” noted Rob Pulciani, Amazon’s director for Alexa, in a statement. “Today, we have a vibrant community of tens of thousands of developers who are learning about the service, bringing useful and innovative skills to every aspect of Alexa customers’ lives.”

Twelve months ago, the number of Alexa services was about 100; today, more than 1,400 have been announced. Recent enhancements include ordering a pizza from Domino’s Pizza, controlling the temperature in one’s home, and monitoring one’s calorie intake and physical activity.

Amazon has also been widening Alexa’s presence within its own services. In fact, the vendor has placed Alexa and Amazon Echo at the heart of its connected home initiative. The vendor released voice-enabled wireless speaker Echo in late 2014, infusing it with virtual assistant smarts that enable it to answer questions or control linked devices upon command. The goal is to automate a diverse range of tasks from setting up home security system videotaping to ordering a book. Recently, Alexa became a whole lot better at shopping: Consumers now use the voice recognition solution to buy items via Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Tap, and FireTV.

More enhancements are on the horizon. In fact, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and founder, has said that Alexa could end up becoming the fourth pillar of Amazon’s business, along with Amazon Prime, its cloud business Amazon Web Services, and its retail marketplace. Bezos added that he has more than 1,000 people working on Alexa technology.

More work needs to be done. Amazon notes that tens of millions of items are available for order through Alexa, but some products are still off-limits. Items such as shoes, apparel, watches, jewelry, and add-on items or products that are part of Amazon Fresh, Prime Pantry, or Prime are not eligible for voice purchasing through Alexa.

Voice recognition is changing the search market, and virtual assistants are altering how vendors service consumers. Amazon has been at the forefront of areas such as cloud computing, and it is moving to be a prime player in these emerging marketplaces.

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