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Amazon Brings Alexa Voice Commands to the Workplace

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New Amazon Echo devices on display in front of the Seattle Space Needle during a promotional event in Seattle on Sept. 27.
New Amazon Echo devices on display in front of the Seattle Space Needle during a promotional event in Seattle on Sept. 27. Credit: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg

Amazon announced new voice-activated tools for the workplace, hoping that verbal commands—"Alexa, print my spreadsheet"—will handle common office tasks.

Alexa for Business will let users issue voice commands to begin a video conference or print documents, among a multitude of common workplace functions, Amazon said Thursday at its cloud computing conference in Las Vegas.

"You no longer ever have to dial in a conference ID," Amazon's Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels said, introducing the service. "Just say 'Alexa, start the meeting.'"

The skills can be accessed through Amazon's Echo digital speakers and incorporated into workplace software. Amazon wants to bring to the office its voice-activated technology that customers are using to control thermostats and order pizzas from home. The company is seeking to make Alexa ubiquitous in users' lives and views voice-command as the next wave of accessing technology, similar to the mouse on a personal computer and touch screens on smartphones.

Amazon's product will compete with Microsoft, which is pitching its Cortana voice-activated digital assistant and conference-call programs for similar office tasks. Alexa for Business will be able to use calendars and contact information stored in Microsoft's popular Exchange software, Vogels said.

Customers already using Alexa for Business include WeWork, which is installing Echo devices in its shared office spaces, and Capital One Financial, Vogels said.

"Once you are used to a more natural way of interacting with your environment, you will not go back," Vogels said. "If voice is a natural way to interact with your home, why don't we build something you can interact with at work as well?"

-- Bloomberg News

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