In Brief
  • Amazon is wading into the voice-activated technology fray with its new "Alexa Fund."
  • It's all about creating the successor to touch-based devices by accelerating the evolution of voice recognition and response technology.

Intuitive Interaction

Amazon has been serious about developing the future of interactive, speech-activated artificial intelligence (AI); their chatbot Alexa, which resides within the sleek cylindrical exterior of the Amazon Echo device, has already shown the world what the next evolution of our interface with technology will look like.

Last year, in their ongoing quest to better this avant garden tech, Amazon announced that it’s coming out with the Alexa Fund to invest in companies working on “voice technology innovation.” Now, elaborating on that commitment, the internet commerce giant is revealing an accelerator program for startups dabbling in conversational AI.

The Alexa Accelerator, a partnership with startup accelerator TechStars, will focus on areas connected with Amazon’s Alexa. That means companies working on how voice technology AI can be improved and applied to more devices, and striving to change the way we interact with our technology so that it’s more streamlined and intuitive.

But since Amazon wants to stick Alexa in more and more platforms, that actually leaves a pretty large field. The company hasn’t specified just what types of companies or tech concentrations it will be accepting, so teams working on smart cars, smart homes, medical devices, and everything in between could make the final cut.

While open to anyone, only 10-12 companies will be selected for an intensive 13-week program, which will connect them with mentors and experts that can help the startups with how to develop both their product and their organization.

A Talkative Future

Voice technology has really been shaping up to be the “successor” to touch-based devices. It’s more spontaneous and intuitive, and represents the natural evolution of tech interaction, which is why companies want to create AI that can better understand and respond to voice commands—not as easy a task as one might think. Tech giants like Microsoft and Google have been working on improvements to speech recognition and generation, and accelerators like this are only going to make that voice-powered future arrive even faster.

Somewhat surprisingly, Amazon has cornered the market when it comes to voice-activated AI; sales for the Echo family of devices have steadily increased, and developers have responded positively to the technology, especially since Amazon released the free Alexa Skills Kit for cloud- and web-based development.  Over 3,000 new skills have been added to Alexa’s already substantial intellectual heft, which only seems to indicate that the technology will begin to grow exponentially as developers continually broaden the platform’s skill set.