This is our second pass at our Alexa demo. If you'd like to read about our first pass and understand what has changed since then, see here.
What is Alexa?
Alexa is a virtual personal assistant from Amazon. Similar in spirit to offerings from Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana) and Google (Assistant), you can speak to these personal assistants and ask them to read the weather report, play a song or tell you a joke.
What truly sets Amazon's Alexa apart from the other personal assistants, however, is that it provides an API that programmers (like us) can use to define new skills for Alexa — teaching it new tricks.
As a demonstration, Finite Wisdom has developed a new skill for Alexa that allows it to connect to Harvest, the time tracking application that we use to track the number of hours we bill each day to each of our clients. With this new skill in place, one of our clients can have a conversation like the following with Alexa:
- CLIENT: Alexa, what time is it?
- CLIENT: Alexa, what's the weather going to be today?
- CLIENT: Alexa, talk to Finite Wisdom
- ALEXA: Which client would you like to discuss?
- CLIENT: (answer)
- ALEXA: What is the authorization code for ACME Industries?
- CLIENT: (answer)
- ALEXA: What can I tell you about the hours that Finite Wisdom has billed to ACME Industries?
- CLIENT: How many hours did they bill last week?
- CLIENT: How many hours did they bill last month?
- CLIENT: How about last year?
- CLIENT: That's all for Finite Wisdom
- CLIENT: Alexa, open Pandora please
In fact, the video on this page recorded this exact conversation along with Alexa's answers to each question. Watch it now.
It is important to realize that the answers to the "how many hours did you bill" questions are determined on the fly by connecting to Harvest and performing the appropriate calculation. If one had asked the question "how many hours did you bill today", then the answer would change as the day progressed!
What technologies were used in this demo?
Two things. First, add support for Alexa's skill cards. Skill cards appear in Alexa's companion Alexa App (for iOS and Android) and provide a visual representation of an answer that your skill has provided. For example, see the adjacent skill card for the Animal Facts skill.
Once we've made these improvements, we'll post a new entry for "Take 3".