Amazon Aims for Echo Speakers in Every Office With 'Alexa for Business'

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Amazon's aim to bring its highly popular at-home Echo smart speaker into the workplace got underway on Thursday with the launch of Alexa for Business. The announcement, made at the company's annual Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, sets the stage for Amazon's vision to make its virtual assistant the essential office accessory, able to book conference rooms, launch meetings, and order stationery.

Alexa already has features amenable to an office environment, such as the ability to make calls, operate lights, and check security camera feeds. Now Amazon wants developers to build the virtual assistant into apps that manage work calendars, find open meeting rooms, and order supplies.

As an intelligent assistant at work, Alexa for Business makes starting a conference call as simple as asking Alexa to "start the meeting." Alexa for Business can help workers manage calendars, keep up with to-do lists, and make phone calls. Around the office, Alexa for Business can handle tasks like notifying IT of an equipment issue, or finding and booking an open conference room—all with just a few words.

However, it's unclear how many companies will want to buy Echo speakers for every conference room, given the potential security implications of an "always listening" device. Amazon says its Echo speakers don't send anything to the cloud until users wake the devices by invoking them by name. However, Amazon does store requests in the cloud, which it says are used to help improve AI and develop new skills for the speakers.

Amazon sold "millions" of Alexa devices over the holiday shopping weekend, according to a company press release, with previous estimates suggesting it has sold more than 20 million Alexa devices over the last three years. RBC Capital Markets predicts that by 2020, Alexa device installations could reach 128 million. Over the same period, sales of the virtual assistants could result in more than $10 billion in revenues for Amazon, according to the firm.


Amazon has reportedly added hundreds of engineers to its Alexa program to maintain its edge over rivals like Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana, and Apple's Siri, all of which are in the process of building out their voice-activated offerings.

However, Apple will be even further behind after it recently delayed the HomePod's release until early 2018. The device was originally slated to launch in December, but the delay means the $349 speaker won't be ready in time for the holiday shopping season, which could lead customers to look at Echo or Google devices instead.

Top Rated Comments

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37 months ago
Seems like we're gradually moving towards omnipresent voice access of computers (outside of carrying your phone around).

On another angle, boy would the Chinese (since they have focused very successfully on industrial espionage over the years) want to hack these things in business settings...on privacy concerns alone I'd never want them in a business setting.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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37 months ago
Amazon will need more than three wake words available for this to happen. Imagine being named Alexa and working in an office with everyone constantly calling your name.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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37 months ago
So many companies deal with intellectual property, I'm not sure how you trust that with Google, Amazon, or even Apple.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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37 months ago
Every office with a laptop, phone or smartphone has a microphone in it, and it's no more or less secure than the Echo, in regards to hacking. Our trust of, or lack there of, technology is already present. The thing that gets people on edge is this is more blatant, as the microphone is a key feature to the service. If listening concerns are real, then we've all got devices we need to pitch sitting right next to you.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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37 months ago
I get the impression that there aren't any/many clear cut regulations on these devices and what can and can't be done with them by the companies that manufacture and support them.

I assume that they listen all of the time. What stops a company, or third party from listening for 'trigger words' or 'secretive conversations', or from them gleaning 'privileged conversations' and leaking that information to competitors or regulators.

I can see someone saying they would like to 'kill' someone, and the cops descending on them ala Minority Report, and also competitors having corporate plans and information 'leaked' to destroy them.

I personally will never have anything that blatant in my house, car, or office. It's not that I have anything to hide, I just don't need the surveillance. Plus, if i need to know the temperature outside, I can stick an arm out the door like the cavemen of antiquity used to do. :)
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
37 months ago
A listening device in every office...

Yeah, I don't see how this could ever go wrong.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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