"...if I only had a brain..."

The brain wars are heating up. Amazon, Google, Apple are skirmishing on the next big technological battleground - artificial intelligence.

Who can build the best "brain?"

Last year, retailing giant Amazon introduced a new product, the Echo, which changed the whole direction of the conversation. An entertaining commercial, featuring actor Alec Baldwin, was aired during the Super Bowl which helped propel the new device into super-stardom. Echo, a wifi-powered speaker, sits quietly in your home until you issue commands with your voice. It's excellent long-range microphones will pick up your voice easily from across the room, and it's robust speaker delivers very good sound quality.

Amazon wisely allowed 3rd-party developers to come up with "skills" that continue to extend the Echo's capabilities. New features are added almost daily. This hasn't gone unnoticed by Apple, who recently announced that they were going to start doing the same thing with Siri. Google will offer a similar product later this year. The war has been engaged!

Geeky guy that I am, I had to give the Echo a spin. I've been impressed and pleased by it so far, despite it's fairly high cost ($179). There are less expensive versions, however.

So what can you ask Echo (also known as Alexa) to do, assuming you have the right configuration? The list is endless, and growing....

  • -play music, radio stations, audio books, and podcasts from the internet

  • -add an event to your online calendar

  • -set an alarm

  • -answers a huge variety of questions (e.g. "how many tablespoons in a cup?" or "What is the population of North Dakota?")

  • -tell you a joke or play games with you

  • -set / control your home thermostat and lighting (requires compatible products)

  • -integrate with your Fitbit

  • -check your banking account

  • -read the latest news and weather report for you

  • -keep a shopping / to-do list

  • order flowers, pizza, or an Uber ride

...and much, much more.

My suggestion? Keep an eye on this technology - it is likely you will be using it one way or the other in the not-too-distant future.

Harry Potter

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