Amazon Alexa Solutions Architect Talks Skill Design to Large Crowd

Past Tides
April 17, 2018 By Jackie Connor

The Irvine Alexa Skills Team hosted an introduction to Alexa Skill Design, led by Justin Jeffress, Seattle-based senior solutions architect, Alexa Hackathons at the Cove @ UCI in mid-March. The Alexa Skills team is responsible for creating learning and engagement opportunities around development for Alexa, the company’s voice service technology. Apps and functions for the voice service are called Alexa Skills. Jeffress introduced voice-first development and how to create ideal user experiences through building a “skill” in Alexa. For the more experienced web developer, he also talked about dialogue management and entity resolution when creating a skill.

“You’re not actually creating artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning,” said Jeffress. “You’re providing a set of training data that dictates how it [the service] behaves.”

Jeffress recommends to first consider the voice interaction/conversation to enhance the overall experience and walk back through the technology. His presentation began with the fundamentals of skill design where he addressed parts of speech in a basic sentence and how Alexa interprets the sentence. According to Jeffress, Alexa breaks down a sentence into certain parts of speech that consist of the following:

Wake word: often referred to as “Alexa,” but also can be referred to as “Echo” or “computer”
Launch: an action
Invocation name: the word/phrase that triggers the specific skill

In connection with a sentence’s part of speech, he discussed the following terms as core concepts for developing skills in Alexa:

Intents: the task the user is trying to accomplish
Slots: allows Alexa to understand the request
Utterances: specific phrases used to make requests to Alexa

These necessary concepts help Alexa define and interpret the user’s request. Jeffress said to consider how the required information fits into the sentence grammatically for increased accuracy.

Amazon’s Echo Show is the new version of Echo equipped with Alexa capabilities and a screen.

“With voice, you don’t have a screen in front of you, so you need to have conversation around what you build,” said Jeffress. “Drive the user into that conversation so you can get to those [more] limited options.”

To learn more about building a skill in Alexa, visit Amazon Alexa’s Voice Design Guide.

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