Amazon Web Services has introduced a new specialty certification for developers working with Alexa, the firm's cloud-based, voice-enabled virtual assistant that’s available on more than 100 million devices from Amazon – including the Amazon Echo smart speakers -- and third-party manufacturers.
The AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder Specialty certification exam, which AWS says is the industry’s only certification that validates developers’ ability to build, test and publish Amazon Alexa skills, has gone live at testing centers after a beta period that started in January.
“The number of consumers who interacted with Alexa doubled in 2018, so we see a large number – hundreds of thousands of developers -- developing skills on it,” said Maureen Lonergan, AWS’ director of worldwide training and certification.
“Skills” are essentially third-party apps that extend Alexa capabilities and allow it to perform certain tasks, such as connecting to and controlling smart devices at home or an office. Companies can build Alexa into their products to enable voice-enabled features including streaming media, speech recognition, notifications, weather reports and other capabilities. There are tens of thousands of skills in the Alex Skills Store in categories including business and finance, communication, the connected car, games and trivia, education and reference, home services, music and audio, news, productivity, shopping, travel and transportation, and utilities.
Some 20 million vehicles shipping in 2023 are expected to be equipped with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant – the artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant developed by Google -- or both, according to an ABI Research report released last week. Amazon has been testing features for Alexa to aid in its entry into the healthcare industry, according to a Morgan Stanley report last week that said Amazon has filed a patent for Alexa to detect when a user is sick and help sell users' medications.
AWS announced the beta version of the Alexa certification exam in January at the Consumer Technology Association’s CES trade show, where more than 100 Alexa products were announced by companies including LG, Lenovo, Audi, Bosch, North and Razer.
“The (exam) registrations out of the gate were very rapid,” Lonergan said.
AWS closed its availability after several hundred people registered and used a third-party vendor to run the test takers’ answers through a psychometric analysis to validate exam questions.
“This exam is going to allow companies to validate skills that they’re hiring for,” Lonergan said. “There’s a lot of organizations building Alexa-enabled applications, and having the right skills and being able to validate the skills to build on Alexa is going to be important.”
Alexa came under deepened scrutiny last week after Bloomberg reported that a global team of Amazon workers transcribes and annotates Alexa voice recordings captured from Echo owners and feeds them back into software to help the voice-activated assistant better respond to commands.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company only annotates an “extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience.”
“This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests and ensure the service works well for everyone,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero-tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. While all information is treated with high confidentiality, and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption, and audits of our control environment to protect it, customers can delete their voice recordings associated with their account at any time.”
Amazon said no audio is stored or sent to its cloud unless a device detects the “wake word.”
“By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word –'Alexa,’ ‘Amazon,’ ‘computer’ or ‘Echo,’” an Amazon spokesperson said. “The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word or Alexa is activated by pressing a button.”
Certified Alexa skill builders will receive a downloadable AWS Certification digital badge that can be shared on social media and in their email signatures, and the badge will give them access to AWS Certified Lounges at AWS events.
AWS recommends Alexa exam takers have at least six months of hands-on experience designing and building Alexa skills, proficiency with a programming language and at least one published Alexa skill.
AWS now has 11 certification exams, and the Alexa exam is the fifth in its specialty series. It has a couple more specialty exams under development that it plans to launch later this year, according to Lonergan, who declined to reveal details.
“We’re continuing to listen to what our customers need and how they want to validate the skills of the people they’re hiring,” she said.