Amazon Alexa is an in-home digital assistant. Named after the Library of Alexandria, Alexa is just cloud-based software that reacts to your voice. You can ask it questions or give it commands. It could be described as a robot without a body.

Of course Alexa operates out of a physical machine. Amazon offers several versions, all with the prefix of "echo." There is the classic Pringles-can sized Echo, a more compact hockey puck called Echo Dot and one that has a screen that looks almost like a digital picture frame called Echo Show. Most recently Amazon released a magic eight ball looking Amazon Show which has a circular screen. Regardless of the form they comes in, they all connect to the internet and allow you to talk to "Alexa." So what can Alexa do? Quite a lot actually.

You talk to Alexa using normal sentences, but using the word "Alexa" at the start of each. So for example, you could ask "Alexa, tell me about the War of 1812." Then Alexa would tell you a few facts about the war. Alexa is pretty good with most factual questions. You can also ask Alexa about what is in the news, tomorrow’s weather, what is on your calendar and even place phone calls. If your Alexa has a screen, then the video calls can be video calls.

Since Alexa is an Amazon product, you can access many of Amazon’s benefits. For example, you can play music. I have been pretty impressed with how specific you can be. Of course you can ask for a particular song, artist or genre, but you can also categorize what you are looking for. For example, the other day I was trying to get my 6-month-old to calm down, so I asked Alexa to play "happy baby music." She did not disappoint. Other requests include "play music from 1975" and "play popular music from the Dominican Republic." Each was done without hesitation.

If you have smart home devices in your house, you can also integrate them with Alexa. For example, I can ask Alexa to turn up or down the heat in my house through my Nest Thermostat. I can also control my lights that I have though my light bulbs that are connected by wifi. Not only can I turn them on and off, but also ask Alexa to set the dim amount or color.

I could keep going on about different use cases (playing games like 20 Questions or Jeopardy is a lot of fun) but I also want to address some concerns people have about devices like Alexa. I have talked to more than one person who expresses privacy concerns by referring to Alexa as "an in-home spy." Alexa does have a microphone that is always on and several versions have a camera. People are concerned about being watched either by some hacker or by Amazon itself. It is rumored that Amazon plans on using what you ask it to deliver ads to you.

To those concerns I say, it is all possible. However, I would like to point out that you probably already allow Alexa-like monitoring devices in your home all the time. In fact, you probably have one in your pocket right now. Smart phones have microphones and cameras that theoretically could be hijacked by a hacker. They also frequently report their location using GPS technology. Your phone is already connected in the cloud and can monitor you but we as a society haven’t given them much thought.

Alexa provides a unique experience for us to interact with technology. From asking questions to giving commands, Alexa’s responses are more than monotone answers and even seem to have feelings behind them (Alexa once told me I was being mean because I jokingly called it a "jerk"). Even if you are skeptical, I suggest giving Alexa a try. You may be surprised. You can learn more at or join a local Meetup taking place in Wooster (

Brian Boyer is the managing partner of Web Pyro (http://? located in Wooster.