Because Amazon opened up the development of Alexa Skills to anyone with the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) in 2015, anyone can create an Alexa Skill. As Alexa uses Natural Language Programing (NLP), those looking to build a skill don't need to worry about complex speech recognition. The ASK tools also makes it easier for novices to work with sophisticated NLP ideas.
Amazon's Alexa is the voice-activated, interactive AI bot, or personal assistant, that lets people speak with their Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and other Amazon smart home devices. Like Siri and Cortana, Alexa is designed to respond to a number of different commands and even converse with users. Alexa comes with more than a few capabilities: playing music, pulling up the weather or even reading news. But Alexa Skills are apps that give Alexa even more abilities, letting her speak to more devices even websites.
As of this writing, Amazon has thousands of sources for flash briefings. The sources they include can be hyper-local like your local news station. Amazon also has specific topics like tech or business, or general info. Many of these sources, like NPR, are podcasts provided by Tune-In. These briefings are audio files Alexa plays for you. Other sources like the AP news stories are read in Alexa’s voice. I wish Amazon told you which ones were audio files because her voice drones on after a while. I hope I get to change her voice like I can with Siri. Right now, you can just change the language to the English (UK) or German.
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Google Assistant doesn’t have flash briefings in the Alexa sense — instead, you’ll be publishing your audio content as a podcast. This is a little more technical than Alexa’s process. First, your briefing will need its own homepage. Second, you’ll need to edit the briefing’s RSS feed to include snippets of code that are required for Google Assistant to recognize it in its directory — check out all the requirements here. Google doesn’t require setting up an Assistant action. Once you’ve included the necessary code in your RSS feed, your podcast will show up automatically within search results.
After your kids are asleep, Alexa can help you doze off with the Ambient Noise skill and its companion skills. There are several different sounds to choose from, all of which come with their own skill. You can fall asleep to the sounds of a thunderstorm, rain, ocean, wind chimes, babbling brook, rain on a tent, city sounds and much more. For all available sounds, just say, "Alexa, ask Ambient Noise for a list."
Alexa Skills themselves are quite helpful. However, even with an updated Skills section in the Alexa app and the ability to add skills using only your voice, discovering new and useful skills is a less than desirable experience. So much so that Amazon actually created a skill called Skill Finder which, you guessed it, helps you discover new skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."