Amazon has high hopes for expanding its Alexa virtual personal assistant software far beyond its current domain. And those plans were on full display this week.
On Wednesday (Apr. 19), the e-tail giant announced that it was rolling out features powering Alexa to third-party app developers through a new platform it's calling Amazon Lex. Specifically, developers can create chatbots for their apps that rely on Amazon's technology to enhance the overall user experience.
Amazon confirmed the news in an interview with Reuters. Amazon chief technology officer Werner Vogels told Reuters that his company's investment in conversational technology would make Lex far more appealing to users than alternatives that might not do such a good job of understanding human speech patterns and responding accordingly.
Amazon has been investing heavily in artificial intelligence over the last several years and its Alexa platform, which runs in the cloud and powers devices like its Echo and Echo Dot, is widely viewed as a leader in the market. The company has already offered Alexa's full functionality on third-party hardware and has been rolling out the virtual assistant as an app to other operating systems.
Lex is not to be to confused with Alexa. While Alexa can be used for a variety of tasks, including shopping and integrating with apps, Lex is designed for companies to deliver a service based on what users say to the platform. As Vogels told Reuters, it's essentially an enhanced method for using chatbots.
Still, Lex will help Alexa become smarter and vice versa, Vogels said. He told Reuters that Amazon plans to catalog the text and recordings people are sending to Lex to make it more likely to understand user inputs and respond accordingly. The information will also be used to improve Alexa, he said.
Amazon's Lex, which has been in a preview beta since last year, is available now to companies. According to Reuters, Amazon will charge customers a fee based on the number of text and voice requests funneled through Lex.