Ep#82 The Best Amazon Alexa Tips and Tricks!

August 20, 2022

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Jeff Headshot

About the Guest

Jeff Blankenburg

Jeff spent the early part of his career in digital advertising, building websites for Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Ford Motor Company, among others. He also spent 8 years at Microsoft, primarily as an evangelist for any new technology he could get his hands on.

Today, he works on the Amazon Alexa team helping developers make Alexa even smarter. Jeff has also spoken at conferences all over the world, including London, Munich, India, Tokyo, Sydney, and New York, covering topics ranging from software development technologies to soft skill techniques. He also serves as an organizer for the Stir Trek conference.

Episode Summary

Amazon Alexa isn't anything new and has been around for awhile. There are endless possibilities of integrating Alexa into our everyday lives. From grouping smart plugs to routine automation tasks. Plus if you're looking to build some skills sets or customize Amazon Alexa, then you might want to check out the blueprints.

Interesting in learning more about Brand Relationships and Content Creating. Check out my podcast with Corey Quinn HERE!

If you're interested in learning more check out the AWS WAF Website.
Are you looking to attend an AWS Summit or maybe AWS re:invent, more information here!

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

Host: Jon

Alexa announcement.

 

Alexa

What's the announcement. The Jon Myer podcast is about to begin.

Host: Jon

Nice. That's an awesome introduction. Let me also introduce Jeff Blankenburg Chief Technology Evangelist for Amazon Alexa. Jeff. This has been long time coming. Thank you for joining the show.

Guest: Jeff

Certainly. Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here,

Host: Jon

Dude. I am super stoked. First of all, I love your background. I love your studio and your layout. Oh, wait, excuse me. One second. I must mute this device just for a

Guest: Jeff

Little bit. Yeah, everybody should, cuz we're probably gonna say that word a couple times.

Host: Jon

<laugh> uh, a couple of times, what do you mean Alexa? Alexa, wait. No, no, I was just kidding. Jeff. I have seen, you know what, I gotta recap just real quick on a couple of things. There's a Tech Bash that's happened local to me and I, I gotta jump right to it because I was searching events that were within my area and your name popped up as a speaker for it. And then I was like, Jeff, I gotta have you back on the show. Uh, we've been talking about this for almost two years since I was an Amazonian.

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. So tech bash is a, is an event held at, uh, at a CAH, har a big indoor water park. Uh, and it's coming up here in November, which, I mean, it feels like November's a long way away, but it's really it's it's around the corner. Yeah. Um, and uh, I was, I was very fortunate. They picked me as a keynote. So I'm gonna get to come and talk to the whole audience and share my kind of thoughts and vision on a future of AI and where we are, where we're gonna be with the idea of having like AI looking out for you. Right. Like having a, having a, a virtual human companion.

Host: Jon

Jeff, let's talk about Alexa. Yeah. Is any device? No, no, I don't. Okay. All yours are mute. I'm waiting for all the cause. We're gonna talk about all the Alexas behind you. Oh

Guest: Jeff

Yeah, yeah.

Host: Jon

Uh, we, we have to jump into how'd you get involved with Amazon Alexa. I mean really? How did you become an evangelist of it?

Guest: Jeff

Well, it's a, it's a longer story, but, um, the, the short version of it is I was working at a startup and one of the guys I was working with, uh, showed me a thing on Amazon website and he's like, dude, check this out. This is gonna be cool. And I was like, that actually will be kind of cool. Uh, and it was, it was the pre-order of the very first echo. So nobody had one yet, but this was like your opportunity to, to buy one. This was, you know, late summer, 2015 maybe. Um, and the reason that it was so exciting to me and the reason that he was excited to show me was because I, I had done a whole bunch of time at, at Microsoft. And during that time, uh, they had launched Cortana and Cortana was this really cool, exciting opportunity for voice interaction on your PC and a, a number of other places.

Guest: Jeff

And me and a couple of colleagues sat down and kind of brainstormed up the idea of a device that you would just have like plugged into an outlet in your kitchen that could allow you to just talk to Cortana, right? Add things to your shopping list, do all this kind of other stuff. And that was in 2013. Uh, and so we had this idea and we presented it to lawyers and all the people at Microsoft. And they're like, not, we're not interested in doing that. And so we just kind of, you know, kind of let it float in the wind. But when I saw this device, I was like, that is, that is the thing that I've been wanting to do for so many years. So, um, it was, it was actually good fortune. I was at this startup. I was excited about the device.

Guest: Jeff

I pre-ordered one. Um, and within a week, not, not related at all. I got a phone call from an old colleague of mine who actually lives out your way. His name's Davis, Ky, and Dave and I are old friends from Microsoft. Uh, and he had, he became the first kind of Alexa evangelist. He was one of the first people on the team, um, and had already started speaking about what voice meant and all that kind of stuff. And so he called me and said, Hey, we're looking for some more people. I think this would be an awesome opportunity for you. You wanna come on? And I was like, yes, like, yes, very much. That sounds amazing. And so, uh, by, by early mid, uh, 2016, just about the time the first device is shipped, um, I was, I was on the team and, uh, I haven't looked back. I loved it.

Host: Jon

I love the story that you presented this to. I mean, Microsoft, but you kind of presented it and it's almost like Alexa was listening to you because you saw this device come up. And, and I know they didn't exist at the time, but you're like, oh, it's like reading my mind. And now this is, this is where I wanna be. That's really cool that you saw it on Amazon. You know, you, you were presented to it. And then all of a sudden, you're now on the team and you're talking about it and promoting it everywhere. And you are like the go to defactor of Amazon elected, ask questions, integrate and test some things out. Not only do you talk about it, but you have plenty of them.

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. I have a couple of devices behind me. I'll, I'll pull away here in a second. We can show. Um, but it has been, I mean, it's been quite a journey, right? I mean, we think about all the things that voice can do today. And when you talk about the fact that this technology's been in people's hands for six, seven years, it just doesn't seem like it's been that much time. Um, but man, I it's what the thing that's most exciting to me about all of this is where we're headed. Right. And so I know we'll have an opportunity to talk about that, but, um, let's talk a little bit about the devices that are sitting here behind me. So, uh, all the way over here, I'm, I'm out of camera almost. Um, I have the original echo show. And so this is, uh, this was released, I think in 20 16, 20 17, but it was the first one with a screen.

Guest: Jeff

Um, and then I've got a bunch of others here. This is a, a red version of an echo dot. I've got the echo show 10, which actually pivots. So you can rotate it. Um, not only can you rotate it, but it'll rotate to turn, turn and you as you're talking to it. Okay. Um, which is pretty cool. Um, I've got the original echo dot sitting here. Like there's, there's no shortage of devices. Um, this is the, uh, original echo, uh, plus, which has, uh, like a ZigBee hub built into it. The Amazon tap is a battery powered remote one. I've got an echo show five down here with the Mickey mouse sees on it. And, uh, I've even got a pair of the echo frames. This is a pair of Alexa enabled glasses that it's built right into the, the stems of the,

Host: Jon

I saw that I was looking at that the, the thickness of it, I was seeing if it was too bad, it looked pretty cool. I might have to test that out.

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. It's uh, it's, it's absolutely awesome. I have a pair of the sunglasses that I actually travel with. And then up here, I've got the echo show 15, which is the, the newest one we've created, uh, that has all sorts of additional capabilities.

Host: Jon

Let's talk about the future and where we're heading because when Alexa first came out of in 2015 and they started shipping in 2016 and people weren't really kind of like, you know, jumping on it just yet. And for me, it took me a little bit. I think I, I might have bought it in 2017, then they stopped. I stopped using it for a while. Some of the capabilities I was like, I, I'm not really doing much with it, but now it's integrated into my house. Right. And we'll, we'll talk about, I mean, I have it on a lower scale than you have, because we just talked about a couple, some things for obvious reasons, but where's the future going with this?

Guest: Jeff

Well, I, I think it's interesting to think about, right. I mean, we, when we first started thinking about voice and what it could do, um, at first people thought it was a novelty, right. And a lot of people see it that way, like, oh, that's great. I can ask for music, but I could, like, I could pick a song on my phone and I could listen to music that way. It was just, it was a slight step forward. Is this little like, okay, cool. I don't have to get off the couch to turn my light off. Great. But like, is that worth replacing my light switch and then replacing, you know, having these devices around my house to make that possible. And I think it wasn't until people started to really feel the utility of the device. Um, as you're walking into your kitchen in the morning, you start your, uh, your flash briefing.

Guest: Jeff

And while you're making your breakfast, you're getting all the news sources that you want any information about whether or your sports teams or whatever, like it already knows all of those things about you because you've told it what you care about. Um, and once the utility starts to hit, um, I mean, it's the same way with cell phones, right? If you think about before, we were all carrying a computer around in our pocket. If I told you, Hey, I'm gonna give you a device. It's gonna be able to do a bunch of computery stuff, but it's also gonna have a microphone and a camera people will be like, wait, well, you're gonna have a microphone in my pocket all the time. They would've been a little skeptical and pushed back a little bit, but it wasn't until you saw the utility of the device and realized like, wait a second.

Guest: Jeff

I, this does so much, I don't know that I could live without this. I mean, imagine today telling everyone that we're not gonna have cell phones anymore. Like, you can't have that, that like, right. Everyone's heads would explode. Yep. I can't live without my cell phone now. So I think the same thing, uh, you see with, with voice enabled devices, where there's a ton of utility that gets built into how I use it and how I, how I manage my house. Um, one example I love is when we go to bed, I just say time for bed. And the entire first floor turns off door locks, garage closes, like all of these things are part of a routine. And then it turns the light and the fan on, in my bedroom so that the house isn't completely dark and I can make my way up and I can go to bed and do all that stuff.

Guest: Jeff

But I that's one thing I didn't have to walk around the whole house, flipping lights, switches, and all those kinds of things. And I, I think that's where we are today, but I think we've only really scratched the Sur surface of what we think. Things like Alexa can be, because it's not just about, uh, a microphone that you talk to. It's about, uh, we use the term ambient computing, uh, and for those that have, maybe haven't heard that term before ambient computing, at least to me, is the, I like to use the example of like the force from star wars, right? It's, it's always on, it's always around you. It penetrates like, you know, it's the whole thing. And so as we think about ambient computing as a whole, the idea is is that it's there when you need it. And it isn't when you don't.

Guest: Jeff

Uh, so think about any TV, trope, or movie where you've ever seen someone have a human assistant, like a real person that comes and they're like, Hey, here's your coffee or here, like I got those files for you or whatever they are anticipating and trying to predict what the person that has the assistant needs, um, and the, the, the person, um, the you of the center of this universe, doesn't have to say, Hey, can you go get me a coffee with O milk and a little caramel and a vanilla shot? Like you don't need to do any of that. You just say, can I get a coffee or even better? Your assistant's good enough to say, they're gonna need a coffee. So I'm gonna bring it to them without them having to get involved in this conversation at all. And I think that we're gonna start to see are what I call an AI companion, start to emerge as the thing that has that utility.

Guest: Jeff

The thing that we start to realize like, wow, that's doing a lot for me that I don't, I don't wanna do any of that stuff. One of the examples I like to use, um, this is somewhat joking in the way that I'm gonna phrase this, but I don't think anyone really wants to pay their bills anymore. So what if you didn't have to pay your bills right now, what people hear is I don't have to spend the money on my bills and that's not obviously what I mean, but imagine not actually having to think about your financial, like day to day stuff anymore at all, it saves some for you. It pays your bills. It even prioritizes like which ones should I pay and which ones can I wait a little while on? Because I don't have enough money to pay all of them right now.

Guest: Jeff

So we've gotta figure out how to prioritize those things. Most people would say I have, I am the only person that can make those subjective decisions. But honestly, as we continue to grow in advance with AI, I think you'll find that you'll actually make more responsible decisions, letting AI make those decisions for you. Um, and we can take this to its like logical extreme. You pull into a Wendy's drive through and you get a message on your phone. That's like one, you don't really have those $7 and two, do you need to eat out again? We've got all this food we just bought at home, right? Like it's reminding you that, Hey, by the way, here's some responsible choices you can can make. So I think that's in a very small microcosm. I think that's where we're headed is that all of those little things that we don't want to do day to day in our lives, if AI can pick that up for us, we should let it, we should give it an opportunity to handle those.

Guest: Jeff

Uh I'll I'll give you one more quick example before we move on. And that is, um, thinking about like making a dentist appointment today, you probably made your dentist appointment at your last dentist appointment, right? They give you a little card or something or, or maybe you typed it in, on your phone while you were sitting in a chair. Uh, and then six months later, of course you were wide open when you made the appointment. I don't know what my schedule looks like six months from now. So I then look at my calendar. I'm like, oh, a dentist appointment on Friday, I've got kid stuff, I've got all these other things I'm gonna have to reschedule. And so then you've gotta now call them the same way that you would've anyway. And you've gotta figure out like, when does my calendar fit their calendar and how can we make this all work to get an appointment scheduled?

Guest: Jeff

Well, what if instead your assistant was just like, Hey, you've got a dentist appointment next Tuesday. And that was the end of it. You never thought about it. You never had to think like that's not one of the stressors living in your life. It just handled it for you. And not only did it talk to your calendars, but it also talked to your dentist calendar to make sure that everything was aligned and it scheduled properly. But then it also talked to your, um, your dental healthcare provider to make sure that it was within six months of your last appointment. So you're not gonna end up paying for something that you didn't realize. All of that stuff is possible. It's just a matter of creating the entities to start managing and thinking about these things for you. So that's kind of where I see the future is that we have AI looking for us, looking out for us the same way that we think about like a human assistant

Host: Jon

Dude. That's really thinking big because you actually outlined, I think everybody's dental appointment six months into the future where they're sitting there and they're like, all right. Yeah, this is good. I I'm definitely good with this, but I love the integration part and thinking about that because I think doing those type of calls, I don't wanna say mundane task. Like now I gotta call them. I gotta coordinate with them and now they gotta try to squeeze me in and am I gonna be pushed back another six months? And are we gonna go through this same thing in six months that we just went through? I think having that ability takes a lot of stressors off and allows us to focus on the more important things. So jump into the next topic. Oh, by the way, I like the baby Yoda back there. You, you indicated star wars. My son would love that. And SP in fact, we're recording today on his birthday. So he's the big 10. This is pretty cool

Guest: Jeff

Birthday.

Host: Jon

Uh, thank you. Thank you. This is pretty cool for the, and he, he's a big baby Yoda fan. Let's talk a little bit more about the future, but the skills that are needed to not only utilize, but maybe adapt or integrate and do other Alexa things. I mean, how, how much skills do I need as a person? Uh, what if I'm not technical? What can I do with it or what's needed to progress us to the future?

Guest: Jeff

No, that, that's a great question. So one of the things that I lean into on all of this is that it's not all about programming, but there is a, a lot of things to know and understand about building stuff for voice, for ambient computing, for AI. And so, uh, the example I like to use is the web there, or very early on, uh, like, I mean, I'm dating myself a little bit here, but when I was building my first websites, right, this is the late nine late nineties, uh, as the young kids, like to say the late 19 hundreds <laugh>, um, as, as we think about, um, what that looked like, like I needed to know a little rough HTML and, you know, some JavaScript CSS didn't even really exist then. And so, as I was building websites, there were tools that would help me with it.

Guest: Jeff

I could see most of the website's capabilities just by viewing the source. That was the whole thing. How do I get this to layout? How do I get it to work? And a lot of people waited. They said, I don't see a lot of practical applications for websites today. It doesn't do a lot of the things that I wanted to do. I'm gonna hold off. I'm gonna wait. I'm not gonna invest. And as time progressed, the web got more and more complex, right? We, we introduced a lot of interesting server side stuff. Uh, we, we made the browser far more complex. Uh, as we went through the browser wars, it was a nightmare for anyone that was trying to, to manage all of that. But you know, you introduce JavaScript into the browser and all sorts of other things. And before you know it, like now it's this really complex pile of things that you not only need to know the back end, but the front end and now

Host: Jon

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Guest: Jeff

Now it's this really complex pile of things that you not only need to know the back end, but the front end and how they all communicate together. And now it's overwhelming. And so you look at it and you go, I could never, I could never do all of that. And so my advice to people is that you're in the early days of voice and ambient computing today. Um, we think about things like Alexa and Alexa skills. They're not complex entities, they're, they're more or less advanced chatbots, um, that have the ability to provide sound and audio and, and text to speech. But realistically, we're talking about a really advanced chat bot, more than anything else. We're not talking about hardcore AI science and all the things that go into it. But as we continue to progress, as we continue to move forward in this vision of the future, that stuff is gonna become more important.

Guest: Jeff

You are gonna be building your own AI machine learning models and lots of things like that. So my recommendation to everybody that is thinking about this future and thinking about how they might wanna use this technology in the longer term is that you should invest in the skills that are available to you today, which is thinking about what does voice design look like, right? This is a totally non-technical subject, but what does it mean to build a user interface that talks to a human, um, that is very, very different than slapping a few buttons on a page and some text, right? You have to think about what a conversation looks like and how do I take that apart and how do I make it engaging so that it's not the same conversation, every single time that user interacts, but it, it feels fresh and new every single time I'm talking.

Guest: Jeff

So voice design is a big component of building things like Alexa skills, but on top of that, then you also have to understand how do I handle user input? What do I, what do I say to someone if I don't understand what they asked, uh, I'm building a skill right now that tells you, uh, what place in major league baseball, your favorite team is. So you come in and you say, oh, I'm a guardians fan. So it, you tell me what, uh, how are the guardians doing? Oh, the guardians are actually in first place today. They're a game and a half, uh, up in the, in this Al central. Cool that's, that's awesome. Um, and we were, you and I were talking before we started the broadcast. What if someone says, how are the Eagles doing well, the Eagles aren't a baseball team. And so even though that seems like it's actually kind of a relevant question to the skill.

Guest: Jeff

It only knows baseball. And so when someone says Eagles, I have to not only be able to handle the positive opportunities, like, yeah, they're talking about the Yankees or the, the Phillies or whatever, but also in the situations where they give me something that I don't know what to do with, how do I handle that? How do I give them a, a reasonable response that says something like, I don't think the Eagles are a baseball team. Um, I'm talking about major league baseball. Do, can you name a team from that? Or I can recommend one or whatever, but you have to think through what that conversation looks like. So my recommendation is, if you think about an Alexa skill today, it's pretty simple. You have a voice interface, you have a small backend that manages, you know, your, your state and your interactions and your conversation a bit. That's the place I think people should be starting because today it's simple and easy. And when you try to add more of those components on top, if you haven't even started, it's gonna start feeling like an overwhelming stack of things. You need to learn where today you can learn it incrementally as this technology grows.

Host: Jon

I think that is advanced error handling for something that doesn't exist. Here's what I think a traditional error you see on a website, error, value, not exists. There's something value. Like, what do you mean? Huh? Wait, I'm so confused. It's so generic. But now you're taking it one step further, actually a couple steps further because you're not only handling the error, but you're presenting it in a human factor. Right? Error doesn't dare or, well, I don't think that is. And it's a conversation piece, right? So you and I are talking and if you know, you're not into football, but you're into baseball and I wanna talk to you about football. You're like, yeah, I'm not into it. That's really that conversation on how it hats and you're not gonna go error. Don't like, or, you know, so I AB I like that. I like thinking ahead thinking of the human factor and that's always built it.

Host: Jon

And I wanna say, uh, customer focus, you know, customer obsession as, uh, Amazon likes to say, I think one of the features that I learned about Alexa, every time I say her name, I want to think this thing's gonna start beeping, but I know I have a mute. <laugh> right. But, uh, one of the things that I have learned and the features I agree was the Alexa announcement I was sitting there. I was like, you know, I have all these devices around my house and I wanna tell my kids, it's freaking dinner time, get down here. And I looked it up and you there's an announcement feature. You just say Alexa announcement. And she goes, what do you wanna announce? And when you do it, it goes throughout all the devices. But what I thought was even cooler is I have fire TVs and all of a sudden they popped up on the TV saying dinner time. And it had food like a silverware and plate on the thing that had an image that correlated with it. So not only if you couldn't read the screen, you recognize the image to kind of indicate that it's dinner. I was blown away cause I have some other features of it, but that is freaking awesome.

Guest: Jeff

It's, it's very cool because it would've been easy enough to just repeat whatever you said and just make the announcement, but they're actually doing enough speech recognition on it to understand like, oh, he's actually talking about how it's dinner time, which is a common announcement. Right? Yep. Um, and so you probably heard that, that like they play a dinner bell that's ringing. Yep. Uh, and then they put the stuff on the screens where they have them. Uh, yeah. I think it's such a nice, like little extra thing on top of just being able to announce stuff throughout the house.

Host: Jon

The other thing that I have integrated now, there are some tips that I'm gonna ask you about some other things that I might be able to use this for, because one, I do reminders, timers, you know, the novelty type items that are cool, but I've taken it further. And my house has become slightly integrated into Alexa slowly, uh, you know, against, you know, all premises. I want a little more, I don't know. I think it's cool. Let's just put it that way. My whole podcast studio right now, all the lighting is actually wired up. So I'll say, Alexa, turn on podcasting lights. The other cool part is I have an on the air light upstairs in my living room and my kids are home during the summer. I do a lot of recordings, a lot of conversations, phone calls. They can't make the noise. It does echo.

Host: Jon

So I'll say, Alexa, turn on on air. And the light will come on. And it's a visual indicator to them. Like sh quiet, you know, don't jump around. You gotta, uh, so all those, but I've also integrated my outside lights. So I have patio lights, Alexa, turn on patio lights, and now I want to take it a stepfather. And I wanna put it on a timer, like a schedule. And I wanna say, turn those on and off, you know, maybe an hour or two a day, whatever it is, my kids' bedrooms, they have L E D lights around their bedrooms and we've labeled them like turn on baby Yoda. And the lights will come on and turn on stitch, cuz my daughter's a big stitch fan and it'll come on. And it's just, I think it's cool. Uh, I, I'm a big kid and I love the technology. Great.

Guest: Jeff

Yeah, I'm, I'm the same way my kids have those same LEDs. Uh, and I'm a, I'm a big, big fan of being able to make your home a little more interactive. Yep. Take that. Take that like another few steps beyond, um, I, I was talking with a guy this was late last year. He works for a company or he runs a company that is creating smart fuse boxes. So imagine ripping the entire fuse box outta your house and putting a new one in, uh, but in that new fuse box, you now have full capabilities to not only recognize where power is going in your house, but also the ability to turn things on and off at the fuse box level rather than in individual light switches or things like that. And the point he made, uh, which was really interesting to me was he said in 10 years, new houses, when they're built will not have light switches.

Guest: Jeff

And he made my head pop a little bit. I was not prepared to hear that. But the idea was that our houses will be smart enough to start taking care of us the way we've been taking care of houses for hundreds of years, where they can recognize that things need to be done. And they know when you're in a room and they know when you're generally not in room, like they'll start to learn you and your family, uh, and your habits. Um, and I think it takes that step that you're just describing, which is I have all these command and control things today to a point where it's now, like, I don't even think about it. Like the lights are on when I need them on and the lights are off when I don't. Uh, and it's, it's, I I'm really, really excited about it. It plays into the same kinds of ideas where the technology's anticipating your needs, rather than you having to tell it each individual time. But the ability today to turn everything off with just a simple voice command, while you're walking, wherever you're going, it is so powerful. And the first time you really make it happen, it's like, whoa, that was cool. And before you know, it you're like you, or you have all these different setups, all these different lights and it's, it's amazing.

Host: Jon

I think the power of groups is really where it's at because now I have all these devices, right. And I, I can call out each one individually, but then I, I just created a group and I have it integrated together where I only have to say one command for everything to happen. And it just does the first time it happened. And I was like, pretty cool. Anytime I come onto a recording for somebody who's never seen my studio and I don't have the lights on, they go, oh my God, I love your studio. I love your background. I was like, well, this is my office. So this is where I talk daily. Everybody sees it. But as a total geek nerd, I gotta show you some other cool features. And then I'll just say, Alexa, turn on podcasting lights. And they're like, wait. <laugh> uh, so I apparently I didn't turn off the other device. That's out the other room. So if you didn't hear it, she said, okay, <laugh> thank goodness that they're already on.

Guest: Jeff

Right.

Host: Jon

That's, that's a question for you, right? And that we were talking offline a little bit about it. I, what if I wanna mute a device by my voice rather than actually pressing the button? I, are we capable of doing that yet? Or is this a feature that might be that we'd love to have?

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. Th this is on my love to have list. Um, the, the idea that I could mute a device for a specific amount of time. Um, this is something I'd love to see. It does not exist today though. So where I could just tell it, Hey, like stop listening for an hour. Maybe I'm watching a TV show or, you know, whatever, um, doesn't exist today. And the, I think there's a couple of reasons for this today on, uh, and Amazon made echo devices, right? So whether that's an echo dot or an echo show or whatever, when you push the mute button, it's actually a physical mute button. So you are actually disconnecting the capabilities for that microphone to listen to you in a physical way. Um, where something like asking it to mute with your voice would probably would not you'd need mechanics in the, in the device to actually like do that itself.

Guest: Jeff

So it becomes a software mute, which is less, um, when we, when we try to make sure that we are representing privacy and security, we want people to have the confidence that they mute a device and it can't listen. Like there's no, there's no way that it could, um, software mutes are different. I dunno if you've used, uh, uh, a lot of the, the, the broadcast software, like zoom and other things, um, you hit mute and then it'll like, flash something at you. Like, Hey, you're muted. You need to unmute. Well, then I'm not really muted. You can hear everything I'm saying, right? Like if I, if it's really muted, you shouldn't be able to hear anything that I'm saying. And that's how these devices are set up. So no, today, if you want your device to stop listening to you, you have to physically tap the mute button. But I hope that that's something that we can fix in the future.

Host: Jon

Okay. Talking about security, I have a security question for you that I was thinking about. I'd love to integrate Alexa into my door. I wanna create, you know, install, door lock, or set it up into my garage. Here's my concern. Right. Um, I'm outside my door. It's, everything's locked. And I got out a device sitting right inside on the left hand side. Can I shout through the door? Hey, Alexa, unlock the door, but then doesn't it allow it to unlock for anybody else?

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. Uh, there, there's a couple of risks there, obviously. Um, thankfully I think a lot of this has been addressed. Um, and there there's two specific ways that a lot of these things kind of get mitigated so that you don't have that concern. Cuz I have, my front door is hooked up. I have my garage door hooked up. Um, the, the first piece is anything that is an intrusive action. So where someone could reduce the security of your home or whatever it happens to be. Um, there's the opportunity for the developer to put a pin in place. Now this is something that they can, they can just say, Hey, like this needs a pin. And so, um, this becomes something where you not only have to tell it to do the thing, you also have to know the pin to unlock that door. Um, and so as the example of the garage door going up and going down, uh, if I'm closing the garage door, don't need a pin like closing the garage door is just fine.

Guest: Jeff

But if I want to open that door, yes, I need, I need permission. I need the code to be able to do that. Um, same goes for front doors and things like that. Um, you also see this across like purchases. Uh, I know you've got young kids. It's very, very easy for them to sit down in front of their device and be like, Hey, uh, order the new millennium Falcon Lego set. And you're like, why did we just spend $700? Well, that, that's why. So there's also the ability with shopping on these devices to set up that same pin functionality. Um, but beyond that, um, if you've set your devices up with voice identification, you can also use that. So it will only recognize your voice or you and your wife's voice or something like that. So that it's limited, uh, by whose voice is speaking.

Guest: Jeff

And that voice functionality translates across a number of things. It's not just security. Um, if I say play my music to my device, it knows it's me because it's my voice. So it'll play my music. But if my wife says that, it'll be like, oh, that's Sarah's voice. I'm gonna play Sarah's music. And so it's little things like that, that like, you don't have to say play Sarah's music or like make it unnatural. You just say, play my music. And it's like, oh, you're Sarah, cool. I'm gonna play your music for you. So that voice stuff can be used on a number of creative ways.

Host: Jon

Okay. I didn't know that was available. I will be setting that up, including my Amazon purchases because I realized the other day I'm sitting here, uh, actually I did it upstairs and I ordered something or I put it into my cart and I was thinking, wait a second, how much can my kids order? Like, oh my God, I need to set something up. And I don't, I don't realize that that I made it convenient, but I integrated in a mall within the house. And I did have 'em set for their separate rooms. But at the same time I do want security and I do want it tied to that. I don't want them ordering that millennium Falcon, which would be a really expensive return. How do you check that off? Is there an option in Amazon that says accidental order by kids?

Guest: Jeff

It is actually when you, when you go to return a product on Amazon, one of them is accidental order, which it doesn't say by kids, but that's usually how it's used.

Host: Jon

How did we order 700 of these,

Guest: Jeff

Right.

Host: Jon

I have no clue. What are you talking about? Jeff? Are there other tips and tricks for Alexa that I'm not using? Right. I mean, I have this device, I wanna do more with it. I wanna integrate it more into my podcasting, into my setup, into making things easier. Not only for me for work, but around the house.

Guest: Jeff

Yeah. I mean, I think you've covered most of it. I think the, the biggest one is routines. Routines allows you to kind of orchestrate things. So you have groups of lights. Yep. But you can create a routine that says, Hey, when I say this thing, like I mentioned it earlier, I can say time for bed. Time for bed is not a built in known thing that Alexa knows how to do. But I can say when I say time for bed, turn off this group, turn off these lights, turn this thing on, like orchestrate a whole bunch of stuff at once. So if you're not using routines, I think that is, that's like the power user move. Um, it gives you a lot of the capabilities you might see with something like, um, the service, if this, then that, I dunno if you've used that or not, but it's a yep.

Guest: Jeff

Fantastic service for orchestrating things when other things happen. Right. Yep. Um, so routines is kind of a, a version of that. In fact, you can integrate if this, then that. So one of the ones that I use, um, that I, if this, then that set up for is if the garage door is open at 10:30 PM close it. I, uh, I could just set up a routine that says close the garage door at 10 30. Um, but I'm actually using it to detect like, is the garage already open and only send the signal if it is open. Um, but those kinds of things become kind of interesting and handy. Cuz you could put conditional stuff on it, you can build specific phrases for yourself. So that like, uh, when I turn these lights off, I say start the office nonsense. Um, these lights used to be like this crazy rainbow pattern that was flying behind me all the time. And I was told that was a little distracting on broadcast. So I, uh, simple to fly it a little

Host: Jon

Bit. I was gonna ask you where that was at because yeah, I know on some of our other calls, uh, are recording what we were gonna do, uh, in the past you had those lights. I, the videos we always see. So I was, I was curious,

Guest: Jeff

But these white bars are those lights. Um, and they can still do all of that, but it, this is a Tamer calmer, uh, background right now. Um, so

Host: Jon

Jeff's been asked to be TAed.

Guest: Jeff

Yes, yes, yes. Like let's just bring it down a notch. So, uh, the other thing though that I like to recommend to people, uh, and I generally start with kids. If your kids haven't discovered this yet show 'em today. Um, but it's Alexa blueprints and you can use this for a number of things. Um, I'll give you the kids scenario first and then I'll show you how it's actually really awesome for parents too. So on the kids' side, they can build their own skills by just filling out some forms. So they don't have to know how to code. They don't have to do any of that stuff. Uh, but there's a couple of cool examples in there. Um, they start with a bunch of templates and then you can kind of customize them as you'd like, but one of them is a, a Q and a.

Guest: Jeff

So imagine you have a couple of kids, they're, you know, 10, 12, something like that. And one of them goes and builds a Q and a skill on Alexa blueprints, which is blueprints.amazon.com if you wanna get to it. But the, the Q and a template allows you to basically write questions and then write what the answer is so that Alexa will respond with that answer. So the way I use it as an adult is what is a wifi password? You can just ask Alexa in my house and she'll tell you what the wifi password is. Cuz the Q and a skill has been built, uh, but built into that same skill. I also have, what is the address here? What is our zip code? What is mom's phone number? What is dad's phone number? Right. So if my kids can't remember, but they need to call me, they can ask Alexa and then they can now obviously with cell phones, my kids are old enough now that they have their own phones and they they've got my number saved, but when my kids were younger, right, 7, 8, 9, they didn't have their own cell phones.

Guest: Jeff

So if they needed to call me for something they could. Um, so that's a kind of a cool Q and a, but you see the kid twist on this, which is, uh, who does dad like more, right? Like that's the question <laugh> and then they can put their own answer and it's like, well, it would be Steve, but actually Carly is the one that dad likes the, you know, you could make it up however you want. Oh. Um, so kids have some fun with that where they're like, uh, making fun of the pets or, you know, whatever, but like they're fun questions and answers that it seems when you use it, it seems innocuous. Like, why are you asking Alexa? How, how could she know? And then she has a response and it's like, what? How could she possibly know that also plays well on things like podcasts, you could have pre-canned responses that you want Alexa to say while you're interacting or on the show.

Guest: Jeff

And if you just ask the right question, it'll give you exactly the answer you were looking for. And so you can kind of get Alexa to say things that would normally other otherwise not be possible. So the Q and a one is kind of a fun example. There's also all sorts of like, um, storytelling, things that you can build. So especially for little kids that wanna write their own stories and hear Alexa, read it to them, you can do that. You can add sound effects, but you can also set 'em up like Madlibs. So instead of there being a dragon, you have a monster, uh, like thing, a whole in the story. And so then at the beginning of the story, Alexa will be like, Hey, I need, I need a type of monster. And you can say like, uh, I don't know, uh, we're an OS or whatever.

Guest: Jeff

Right. And then everywhere in the story that, that is mentioned, she'll use whatever you said instead of, you know, like a med lib. Um, so those are kind of fun, but the, for adults, one of the things that I think is kind of cool is there's, uh, there's one, that'll like do a simple countdown to your vacation. So you just tell like where you're going and what day, and then you could always ask her like how many days till we go to Hawaii and she'll tell you. Um, but the, the one that is the best is I would imagine you've probably asked your kids at some point to empty the dishwasher and it's always like, oh dad, I have to go do nothing. I don't have time for the dishwasher.

Host: Jon

Right. <laugh> so, you know, my kids

Guest: Jeff

<laugh>. So the, the idea behind this one is, uh, whose turn is it? And you go in and you enter all the people's names for a specific task, like wa doing the dishwasher. Um, and then you can tell it's a randomly select or just move its way through the list. And then all you have to do is be like, Hey, whose turn is it to do the dishwasher? And Alexa will do a little drum roll. And then she'll be like, ah, it's this person. And then they're like, oh man. And then they have to do the dishes, but what's cool about it is that it takes that off of you. Now it's not dad making me do the dishwasher. It's Alexa,

Host: Jon

To

Guest: Jeff

Me, it's a power.

Host: Jon

So they could go roll their eyes on Alexa. <laugh> yep. And do it, wait, what feature is that? You know, I'm setting that up.

Guest: Jeff

<laugh> it's a blueprint. You'll you'll find it. It's in there.

Host: Jon

I know it says blueprints for adults, dishwasher, knowledge <laugh>

Guest: Jeff

Yep.

Host: Jon

I am definitely said it happens all the time. Yep. I have a 10 and 12 year old. I did it last time. No, I did. No. Remember. I I'm like, oh my God. And we have to

Guest: Jeff

Have this now you don't have to remember. Alexa will manage it for you.

Host: Jon

A piece of paper on the fridge checking box. Who did what, when? Oh my God. Okay. And the Q and a storytelling. Oh, integrated it into the podcast. I think I'm gonna be, I'm gonna have a lot of fun with this. You, you wait, my next podcast that I do, we might do one or two things adding into it. So Jeff, talk about some of the upcoming features or releases for Alexa. If you can share anything that's new, uh, that might be right around the corner that you can talk about,

Guest: Jeff

Man. I wish I could talk about the future. Uh, as much as I like to talk about, like what's coming in the big picture, the near term future is something I'm not really in a good position to talk about. Uh, we do have what we call our fall launch event. Uh, that's coming up in September. I don't have a date for it yet, but we regularly have an event in September. Well, we'll announce some new devices, some new consumer capabilities, all of that kind of stuff. So I would say in the next month, or so keep your ears open. You'll hear a bunch of new stuff coming out. Um, but for developers, uh, for people that are technology oriented and that want to build stuff on Alexa, we actually just announced in July a cool thing, um, that I think if you didn't pay attention at the moment, you may not have heard about, and it's called the skill developer accelerator program. The idea behind this is if you build a skill and you get some users, Amazon gives you money, uh, and everybody likes money. So in addition to a number of other factors that get built into like how you get compensated and how you sell things in your skills and all sorts of other stuff, um, there are just actual financial rewards for building awesome stuff on Alexa. Uh, and if, if people aren't aware of that, it's something that they should definitely look into. What about like

Host: Jon

Alexa innovators? Can we talk about that?

Guest: Jeff

Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. Alexa innovators is a video series that I'm working on with my team, uh, where we're traveling around the world, interviewing people that are doing cool, interesting stuff with, uh, with Alexa. And so, uh, innovators is a, like I said, it's a video series you can find out on our YouTube channel, uh, or I think you can go to Alexa design slash innovators. Um, but in those videos you're gonna find one guy that built, uh, pop socket that, uh, has Alexa built. In fact, I have it right here. So this is on my, on my case. Um, but this is a normal pop socket, but this is actually an echo dot, uh, in and purposes, right? So it has wireless charging built right in. So I spent, you know, I spent a whole day talking with the guy that invented this and, and talking about what his process was and what he thinks about going into building hardware for Alexa.

Guest: Jeff

Uh, I also met a guy in California who builds big cart sized robots that are meant for people that don't have the mobility that they'd like in their home and they can, they can walk around their house, but walking while carrying a big basket of laundry is too much. And so if they can't do that, then oftentimes they find themselves having to move to some sort of assisted living or something like that. This robot facilitates them being able to stay in their home significantly longer, cuz not only can it help them like, Hey, I'm gonna put the laundry basket on this cart and it's gonna take it to the laundry room for me, but it can also, while they're sitting on the couch, be like, Hey, can you go get my medications? Uh, and it'll go and it'll drive and it'll pick up a tray and it'll bring it back to them and here's your medications or go get some drinks outta the fridge or whatever.

Guest: Jeff

Like there's a lot of really cool capabilities. And so we have another video talking to him. Um, and then we talk, we've talked with skill builders. I actually just got, we don't have this episode done yet, but we were just in London a couple weeks ago. And we were at the Ascot race course, which is a horse racing track, like, uh, like Churchill downs here in the United States. Uh, but this is like the, the Queen's racetrack. And so they have all of these luxury boxes set up and all of them are Alexa, you can order food, you can, um, ask people to come. So you can make bets on the horses, all sorts of cool capabilities built right into the devices in those suites, uh, so that people can stay and enjoy their time and stay with their friends rather than having to like go find a restaurant or go do whatever they can just have all of those things brought right to them. So it's, uh, it's really interesting to talk with people that are doing all this really innovative stuff with Alexa. And that's what this series is.

Host: Jon

Jeff. I got two more questions before we wrap things up. Yeah. The first question you, you were just over in London, right. And there was a hotel that actually has Alexa built all completely into it that we were talking about. How do you manage all these devices? I mean, and think about it. I've got thousands of devices. I imagine it's almost like back to the cell phone management, the iOS for corporation, but now I have these devices that I have to constantly manage and monitor. Is there a way or capability to do that?

Guest: Jeff

Yep. So we have something called Alexa smart properties. Um, and this is a service you, you set up and you configure and then you have the dashboards that manage all of your devices for you. You can see the current status of all of them. Is it online? Is it offline? Is there challenges, whatever. Um, but yeah, you can manage a, a suite of thousands of devices in that way. Um, so that you know exactly what's going on with them. Um, you can make sure that they're updated with the appropriate firmware, all of that kind of stuff. You can even, uh, as part of the smart properties, uh, package or whatever, um, you can publish skills that are only available to your devices. So in the exam in the, the, this racetrack is using that same technology, right? So they have, um, specific skills that allow you to order food or make bets or, or order merchandise from their store. Um, those are not skills that you could use as just a regular consumer. They're only published to their set of devices that they're, they're managing. And so it's, it's kind of cool to be able to like deploy, you know, enterprise specific things. If you're doing this in your, your corporation, uh, or in a hotel, you know, I wanna make sure that I have capabilities available to my customers, but this isn't a skill I would want just a random person to be able to use. They're not gonna order room service to my house.

Host: Jon

I like that. I like learning all these new features. Jeff, what's next for you? Where are you gonna be next? What's the up upcoming event that you wanna share with folks?

Guest: Jeff

Yeah, I've got a few. So, uh, I'm speaking at an event in Louisville called code Palooza. Uh that's next week, actually. Um, and then, uh, I get a little time off, uh, of travel, um, before I'm gonna be heading to, uh, Washington DC for an event called the voice summit. This is one of two, the two big like voice industry events, where people from across the industry all get together to talk about how they're thinking about voice, what devices they're making, or how they're approaching a lot of the problems that we face in this industry. So voice someone I'm very excited about. And then, uh, as we mentioned in, in November, I've got two, three events I'm going to in November. Uh, the first one is tech bash, as we talked about at the beginning of this, um, there's another one called the Caribbean developers conference, which I

Host: Jon

Am, I me up for that

Guest: Jeff

<laugh> right. I'm super excited about it, but it's not for the reason you think yep. The Caribbean developers conference. Um, when I, I went in 2019, it was a first year and I fully expected that it was gonna be 500 Americans that all wanted a conference on the beach. Uh, but what I found out in fact is that more than 95% of the people that attend this event live in the Dominican Republic. These are people that residents locals, um, that, that are attending this event and the people that organized it are people from the Dominican Republic that have found jobs at some of the biggest tech tech companies around the world, right? Google, Facebook, Amazon, whatever. And so the reason the event exists is to give those people in the Dr. The opportunity and access to the speakers and the technology and the companies that we all kind of take for granted here in the United States, I can go to a Microsoft event or an Amazon event anywhere. Um, but down there you don't really get that kind of opportunity. And so it's really cool to go down there and talk with folks that don't have those kinds of access. They're so enthusiastic and excited and, and, uh, humble about being able to get access to, to folks working at all these cool technology places it's it's an absolutely rewarding event, uh, and really, really cool.

Host: Jon

Jeff, I'm gonna put a lot of links into description below on the events that you will be at. Uh, will we be, so do you attend reinvent at all? Is there some big stuff for re free?

Guest: Jeff

I do. So that was gonna be my third event in November.

Host: Jon

Oh, there you go.

Guest: Jeff

The week right after Thanksgiving. And, um, I I'm giving a talk, um, which is kind of the 20, 22 recap. I give that every year at Reve. Um, but I say I'm giving one talk, but I'll probably have to give it three or four times during that week. They move us around. So I'll speak at the a one day and Caesars the next day and Venetian the next day. Um, so that what they found is a lot of people will just kind of hover in one hotel. And so we wanna make sure that we're spreading the content around. Uh, but yeah, I will be at reinvent and because of that, I will be there the entire week. So I get there Saturday or Sunday and leave Friday.

Host: Jon

Okay. Well, I'll definitely look for you there. I'll be there the entire week. We're hosting some cool events for social influencers. I'd love to invite you over to R suite. Uh, talking a little bit about things, but we, we can talk offline a little bit more. Jeff, thank you so much for joining me. This was fun.

Guest: Jeff

Cool. I'm glad you had me, man. Thank you so much.

Host: Jon

Uh, I'm glad we had a chance to do this. Everybody. Jeff Blankenburg chief technology evangelist for Amazon Alexa, my name's Jon Myer. Don't forget to hit that, like subscribe and notify because guess what? Alexa, turn off podcasting lights.

Speaker 4:

Okay.

Host: Jon

We're outta here.

 

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