Voice Activated Intelligent Personal Assistants

On 28th September 2016 the Amazon Echo voice-activated cloud-based intelligent personal assistant device named “Alexa” was introduced in the UK, having been available in the US since 6th November 2014 (see Wikipedia article). This blog post collects resources and links related to voice-activated computer assistants such as Amazon Echo, Apple Siri, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana.

AmazonEchoLogoAmazon Echo – Alexa

Amazon_EchoThe Amazon Echo incorporates a wifi linked control unit along with a tubular speaker. The control unit on its own is available as the “Amazon Echo Dot” which can be connected to external speakers, though it also has a simple speaker incorporated for voice feedback.Amazon-Echo-Dot

Amazon Echo Dot First Time Setup

For some reason on a University network that should present several WiFi access point options (eduroam and central) only central showed. But except for that, connection to a Wifi network which requires a user name/password and conditions acceptance prompt was straightforward.

The Alexa Home Application on a web browser or mobile device shows the latest interactions, news, music player (with active controls), etc that are relayed via the device.


It appears that the ability to read out Kindle books is not present in UK devices yet.

The Echo and Echo Dot update themselves when idle for a period. See this page for the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot Current Software Version. Although my experience is that the version listed on web page may not be fully up-to-date and your Echo or Echo Dot may actually have a new version after an update.

Switching between WiFi Networks

Amazon-Echo-Dot-WiFi-SetupIf you move your Echo or Echo Dot to a location with a different WiFi access point, you will need to change the WiFi setup. The device will indicate it cannot make a WiFi connection. If you then hold the “Action” button for 5 seconds or so, it will show an orange ring and enter setup mode. This will create an “Amazon-XXX” named local WiFi setup to which you should connect your Alexa app device (such as an Apple iPhone/iPad). Then run the Alexa App, select “Settings”, select your device and enter “Update WiFi”.

Connecting a Wemo Smart Home Device

I tried to connect a Belkin Wemo smart home plug. An immediate issue was that I could not connect to a Wifi network that requires a login username and password, normally presented through a web page or pop-up dialogue. It appears that WEMO only supports WPA, WPA2, and WEP security types.


A “Restore” button on top of the device allows for the initial built in direct access Wifi settings to be restored to allow a new Wifi connection to be set up. Instructions for the procedure are here.


The Amazon Echo and Dot can relay audio books from Audible (an Amazon company) and (in the US only at present) can do text-to-speech output for compatible Kindle books. If “WhisperSync” is enabled across your Amazon devices then the last page read is saved whichever modality you use.

  • Alexa Audiobook Commands. E.g.
  • Alexa, play book <title>
  • Alexa, resume my book (on subsequent instructions to go back to last page being read)
  • Alexa, restart (to go back to the beginning of the book)
  • Alexa, go to chapter <number>

amazon-alexa-skills-kit-logoAlexa Future Developments and Alexa Prize

Developers and students can access an “Alexa Skills Kit” to add “Alexa Skills” and join in a competition to develop conversational AI extensions suitable for Alexa.

  • The Alexa Prize – The Alexa Prize – $2.5 Million to Advance Conversational Artificial Intelligence – September 2016 – November 2017.
  • University of Edinburgh Team Edina Entry (Federico Fancellu -Team Lead, Ben Krause, Emmanuel Kahembwe @MannyKayy, Daniel Duma @mstdan, Marco Damonte, Jianpeng Cheng, Mihai Dobre and Joachim Fainberg).

Apple-Siri-What-Can-I-Help-You-WithApple Siri

Google-HomeGoogle Home

Cortana-Ask-Me-AnythingMicrosoft Cortana

This entry was posted in AI, Internet and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Voice Activated Intelligent Personal Assistants

  1. bat says:

    And now from the sublime to the ridiculous.. a developer named Brian Kane has hacked his Alexa to speak through the avatar of a wall-mounted Big Mouth Billy Bass!


  2. bat says:

    I found that the Amazon Echo frequently disconnected from a UK BT Home Hub 4 setup, and did not automatically reconnect. It also was not able to connect again after being powered off and on. The fix was to separate the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wifi networks provided by the BT Home Hub onto separate SSIDs, rather than using the default which has them use the same SSID. See this advice from By T Randhawanear on 3 Oct. 2016 (section near bottom)… https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/cr/rR1HMKROC0XK3EL

    The BT Home Hub uses two Wi-Fi network bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz), at least since the Home Hub 4 was introduced. As both networks use the same name (SSID), this may be causing a conflict in connecting to the Amazon Echo. Separating these bands by giving each wireless network a new SSID name should help solve the issue.

    (i) Open a browser and type in the following address:
    – This will allow you to change your router settings

    (ii) Click ‘Advanced Settings’ > ‘Wireless’.
    – Enter your admin password (this can be found on the settings card on the back of the Hub).

    (iii) Click on the ‘Separate bands’ switch to set it to ‘On’.
    – NOTE: If you have a BT Home Hub 4 or 5, then you need to click on ‘5GHz Wireless’ first, then set ‘Sync with 2.4GHz’ to ‘No’ and rename the Wireless SSID.

    (iv) Click ‘Apply’ or ‘Save’ to save the changes.

  3. bat says:

    US Arkansas Police ask: “Alexa, did you witness a murder?” blog post by Ars Technica on 28-Dec-2016… looks at what is stored or remains accessible on the device itself…


  4. bat says:

    Mattel Is Building An Alexa For Kids – Her name is Aristotle, and she has eyes, and ears, inside your child’s bedroom.


Comments are closed.