• Amazon is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the arrival in France of its personal assistant Alexa.
  • Integrated into countless connected objects, the one that responds to our voice commands has found its place in the daily lives of many French people.
  • But according to one of the co-founders of the lesalexiens.fr site, Jean-Christophe Levescot, Alexa is only relevant when you use a full range of its functions.

"Alexa, how old are you?" I was first born in the United States on November 6, 2014, then in France, on June 13, 2018." Amazon's voice assistant is celebrating its 5th spring in France this year. And it was on Thursday, November 16 that the web giant finally decided to blow out its candles in France... as if by chance the day before Black Friday!

Integrated into an application (Amazon Alexa), in many hubs (connected speakers, with or without screen) regularly renewed by its manufacturer, and compatible with tons of connected objects (robot vacuum cleaners, locks, gates, roller shutters, etc.), has Alexa been able to find its place in our lives? Jean-Christophe Levescot, co-founder with Rémi Hontang of the lesalexiens.fr website, answers questions from 20 Minutes.

Who are the Alexians?

Originally, we are, with Rémi Hontang, two ex-beta testers of Alexa that we discovered well before its launch in France. In particular, Amazon tested our southwestern accent (we are from the Bordeaux region) to see if its virtual assistant was compatible! The idea was to ask Alexa a whole bunch of questions and send the answers back to its designers. We then wanted to create a dedicated website and a Facebook group that expanded to include home automation.

In five years, has Alexa changed our lives?

I think so, although "changed" is a big word. The fact is that in five years, Alexa has gone from being a somewhat gimmicky voice assistant with, thanks to it, a real democratization of home automation. Many users start with a simple connected light bulb that they can control to turn on and off with their voice, then upgrade their installation, as with fully automated shutters.

Importantly, we've seen from our readers and subscribers that Alexa has gained a real following among people with disabilities. Thanks to the assistant, it is not necessarily necessary to travel for this or that task. Even blind people find it interesting.

Is there still a gimmicky side to Alexa?

Yes, there are all these skills (the mini-programs in the Amazon Alexa app that allow you to customize your experience) that don't serve much purpose, such as those to ask him to make the noise of the pig... or fart! It's fun for kids, but then, with Alexa, it's everyday uses that have real added value.

What are the most practical uses?

Personally, I use it to find out if I have any mail that has arrived. My connected mailbox alerts me, thanks to Alexa, when the postman has just come by. I also use it to open my shutters, use my television... and even for my cats with my connected kibble dispenser! My doorbell, my lock... and my robot vacuum cleaner are also connected to Alexa. I also use its services to launch Amazon Music, podcasts, listen to audiobooks.

And since I travel, I also use the Echo Auto. Being able to control my music or play an audiobook, change direction on Waze, by voice, without taking my hands off the wheel... Alexa is really handy!

Is there a "killer app" that exists with Alexa?

There isn't one that stands out. In any case, I don't necessarily have one. On the other hand, it is when you use all of its features that Alexa has great interest. It's the synergy that's interesting.

Are there any unexpected features that may be surprising?

Amazon is trying to make Alexa smarter and smarter, but AI integration is still a little bit behind. It's going to happen. If you ask her a question, however, an evolution has recently led to another question, and a vocal return with little words of humor that make the assistant more human today. This is a first step.

What are the main flaws?

On the one hand, there is the lack of fluidity in conversations. Amazon is working this, but having to rerun queries starting with "Alexa..." when one needs different services can get tiresome. On the other hand, while the Amazon Alexa app is improving, it's still a bit of a catch-all. And it's a disaster if you try to get rid of products you don't use anymore. Even I, who have already connected a hundred of them during my tests, I still have trouble getting to the end of the manipulation...

Should Amazon be worried about the rise of ChatGPT?

They're working on it to incorporate something similar. But Alexa remains standardized and narrow-minded. Currently, it's a program that doesn't learn as you go, and isn't generative, like ChatGPT. But it's not quite the same use. With Alexa, we remain, for the moment, on commands, on utility.

How do you see Alexa evolving?

It can be seen that the current developments are essentially material. The recent support for the Matter protocol is a good thing. It would be nice to have a system that can work regardless of the platforms. Amazon is also working on contextual requests, multi-factor routines, like "Turn this device on and turn it off in 15 minutes." And since Amazon will eventually inject a little AI, we will discover services that will anticipate user demands. This will be a good thing, as long as it's not too intrusive.

And what about Google Home, Alexa's rival?

For a long time, Google's assistant was ahead of its Amazon rival, but today we see that on the Google side, the home automation part is completely lagging behind. Google Home, like Apple's SIRI, doesn't evolve too much anymore. At least for now.

  • 20 Minutes Videos
  • Tech
  • Amazon
  • Alexa
  • ChatGPT
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Connected objects
  • Black Friday 2023