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Alexa hackathon points to future where virtual assistants talk just like humans

Why it matters to you

The digital assistants seen in movies like Her or Iron Man may not be as far off as you think, if the Alexa hackathon is any indication.

While current Amazon Alexa assistive features are great, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what future digital assistants might be capable of. Giving us a hint at that future recently was the Alexa hackathon hosted by Automated Insights, the company behind Wordsmith, the natural language-generation platform.

The idea behind the hackathon was to combine Alexa’s cloud-based assistance with Wordsmith’s natural sounding cadence to create a tool that responds more naturally to users. Teams were tasked with combining the two services in new and exciting ways, and the event drew innovators from The Associated Press, Lincoln Financial, NASDAQ, TicketMaster, and Reverb Nation, among others.

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As you might expect from many of the participants, a lot of what they created were new business tools. Alexa, when augmented with Wordsmith, was able to analyze stock options, offer tips before important meetings, and evaluate sports plays.

Other teams were able to have Alexa share information on a child’s academic achievements, suggest new TV shows or movies to watch, and give a report on a vulnerable loved one.

The winning team came from fleet management firm Omnitracs. It created a system where Alexa users could ask about truck driver performance. In return, they would receive information on how the drivers operated that was drawn from the company’s telematics system.

Automated Insights wants to continue exploring integration with Alexa, believing that the human voice could prove to be a fundamental input mechanism for our digital futures.

“It was exciting to see the future of natural language technologies in action. Alexa can now leverage Wordsmith to provide natural spoken conversations, and the possibilities are endless,” said CEO Robbie Allen.

Both Automated Insights and Amazon plan to hold a joint hackathon event later this year.