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by Ray Carlson

Q. Has Amazon added a computerized personal assistant called Alexa? Aren't Siri, Cortana and Google Now enough?

A. The four major technology companies – Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, assume computerized personal assistants will be increasingly important for attracting users and are putting extensive resources into their development. Amazon's Alexa is handicapped by being limited to operating through the Bluetooth speaker Echo or Fire TV with Voice Remote. To expand use, Amazon allows hardware and software developers to integrate Alexa with their products for free, and they set aside $100 million to support the hardware connections. Home security systems and counter-top cooking were initial investments. You come home and say "Alexa, play relaxing Christmas music," and the music begins. Next, you ask for reviews of take-out restaurants and to be reminded when a TV program starts. If you have the right equipment, you can ask to have the heat turned up and the dead bolt locked. Suddenly, you remember you need to take something to work and ask Alexa to remind you in the morning.

In general, Alexa is copying Google Now, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana, but these others can be used in more varied locations because they are installed on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Alexa has good microphones, so it hears better but, for now, is limited to where the speaker or Fire TV are placed. An app is installed on a nearby computer to record shopping lists, to-do lists and the like, but otherwise Alexa communicates verbally using Wi-Fi to connect with the Internet. Siri is the most experienced and seem to understand questions best while Google Now takes advantage of the extensive information it collects on users. Cortana is rapidly catching up and is expecting major changes.

Try whichever came with equipment you own. Several reviewers suggested they thought they did not need an assistant, but the ability to immediately search for practical information, set up reminders, and run entertainment changed their mind.

Published: Courier 12/27/15 - Page 4D