Small Planet

Blog Post

What If Alexa…

Spoke with a Scottish brogue? Got out of the house more? Lived in the moment versus on the calendar? Small Planet talks about what we’d like to see more of from everybody’s favorite AI.

Small Planet

Small Planet

Mashed up Jarvis and Mrs. Doubtfire?

What if Alexa was a benevolent and kindly assistant, reminding me to take better care of myself and to be generally helpful, as much as a voice interface can? It really needs to meet me halfway if I ask it to do something and it doesn’t quite understand what I’ve said, and to help me learn its idiosyncrasies over time as it learns mine.

Until then, it’s a tricky interface for limited actions. If it could warn me before I leave the house to take an umbrella or let me know that the dog food I ordered has arrived downstairs *without* my prompting it, then I would seriously consider having one. I’d also consider it if I could choose different voices and accents. Scottish brogue, Big Lebowski character, Hogwarts professor, sassy Southerner…the possibilities are very entertaining.

-Joana Lehman, Executive Producer


Became more context-aware?

I agree with Joana. Context is something that they got pretty good in the movie Her, and it’s something that will need to work well for AI to mean a lot to us. Let’s say you’re shopping for groceries in a supermarket or online with FreshDirect, etc. That’s a perfect time for Alexa to remind you that you wanted to order some avocados, versus setting fixed reminders on a set day at a set time.

Are you leaving your apartment and you don’t have your phone? That’s a good context for telling you your phone isn’t on your person. Are you discussing something serious with someone? Not a good time to share the latest meme. However, waking up in the morning is a great context for memes.

-Quinn McHenry, Senior Developer


Got my drift?

When coding the phrases that your skill will respond to, you have to enter every possible variation. For example:

  • ResetPlayersIntent reset my players
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset my points
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset old players
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset old points
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset our players
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset our points
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset the players
  • ResetPlayersIntent reset the points

You get the picture. This means the user has to say one of these exact combinations of words to initiate an intent. And while it may keep the processing time to a minimum, it can create a fairly limiting and confusing experience if the user says something close but not exact. It would be nice if she could use reasonable deduction to determine what the user meant if they stated “reset all the points” and confirm in the form of a question. “Do you want to reset the points?”

-Angie Sanders, Developer


Did all of this stuff?

  • Set a custom wake work. Currently wake works can only be Alexa, Amazon, or Echo.
  • Made it easier to switch between accounts. An Echo device can only have one account active at a time.
  • Leave messages for other family members, notes to yourself, or dictation that can be emailed. Texts are currently allowed through things like the AT&T skill.
  • Do more things out of the box, without having to enable new skills. “Alexa, give me a recipe for brussel sprouts.” is a simple enough request and one I tried when I first took Alexa home. She doesn’t understand recipes, even though she’s used a lot in kitchens because of the timer function.
  • Push notifications — Hopefully this is just around the corner. Push notifications were rumored to be available starting in Fall 2016, but since that’s come and gone we’ll just have to hang in there. Currently third-party Alexa skills cannot begin speaking unless spoken to first.

-Angie Sanders, Developer


Plus this stuff too?

  • An intercom feature. It’s time.
  • Have Echoes/Dots truly function as networked devices — starting with the ability to send the same audio to more than one device at a time, à la Sonos.
  • Being able to record your own voice prompt, rather than being stuck with Alexa, Echo, or Amazon.

-Fred Lee, Chief Experience Officer

Made her skills more discoverable?

The thing that I’ve been thinking about is discoverability. What kind of conventions can Alexa (or other voice platforms) create to quickly expose options for interaction to users? How does someone using the base platform, or more specifically an app connecting to Echo, know what they can say or get out of that app? For all the myriad skills available to users, we still desperately need a full-fledged store to help us intuitively and easily discover skills we each find relevant.

-Drew Cogbill, Executive Producer

Took on more of a role in the workplace?

So far Alexa has mainly been confined to the house, how about bringing it more into the office? Controlling temperature and lighting, activating the security system, organizing group calls, playing music on the office speaker, ordering food for delivery, re-stocking office supplies on Amazon Prime, issuing calendar reminders, connecting to GoToMeeting — Alexa is perfect for all these tasks.

Some of this is already happening at a few hip places, especially the music, food delivery, and calendar features. The embrace of the mainstream seems a bit further off. Big offices might be too chaotic, with so many voices and requests being thrown around (making account and voice differentiation very necessary in the future). We also need another tidal wave of connected-device upgrades to most offices, with lighting and temperature control being the most likely first candidates.

However, for small offices, Alexa’s role as office assistant could expand pretty naturally. And while Domino’s got in early on pizza delivery via Alexa, services like Seamless and are a perfect fit for easy office lunch orders.

-Matt Brown, Marketing Director

Had programmable emotions?

It’s family night, a board game is well underway, and Alexa is dutifully keeping score. Tensions are rising, but not just among the players. Alexa can’t get enough of the game, and when the winner is finally crowned, she’s whooping along with the rest of them.

Of course, the Alexa we know can’t come close to emoting like that, but what if it could? Systems like Alexa can already feel less like robots and more like other people. Having emotions would push this even further. Imagine waking up and getting a pleasant good morning, or hearing Alexa tell you in a cheerful (or melancholy) voice that your mother had called.

Imagine a personal assistant that you had customized, maybe to be funny to get you through the day, or angry to motivate you. Giving emotions to Alexa would open the door to endless possibilities; a voice activated device we could love and enjoy.

-Max Mitchell, The Intern


Could talk to our pets?

It’s dinner time, and not only for the humans. A juicy bowl of food lies on the floor, but the cat is nowhere to be found. No one is panicked, though, they know what to do. “Alexa, tell Buttercup it’s time for food.” Alexa releases a short meow, and out comes Buttercup from hiding.

Today’s Alexa still has trouble fully understanding humans, but what if it could talk to pets? Animal communication would be the next big thing. Household electronic communication would no longer be limited to humans and machines. Cats and dogs would be able to turn on lights, change temperature, and even alert the police to a break in. Giving Alexa the ability to talk to pets would truly be a revolution!

(Note from the editor: consider setting boundaries on the lights, thermostat, and 911 accessibility as an initial precaution.)

-Max Mitchell, The Intern


Want to see what Small Planet is working on for Alexa? Email