Amazon’s brightest star doesn’t appear on any of its high-profile TV shows. Rather, it’s Alexa, the voice-controlled "brain" at the center of the cylindrical Amazon Echo device that gets smarter the more often users engage with her.
Alexa has moved the battle for the most helpful digital assistant from portable smartphones and watches to our homes, where consumers want the hands-off experience that decades of sci-fi movies have promised. Echo has sold an estimated 3 million units since it debuted 18 months ago.
Later this year, Google will challenge Amazon with Google Home, an Echo-style device that will manage schedules, play music, and perform routine tasks like ordering an Uber. Google has the world’s best machine-learning technology, but also a poor track record selling hardware devices direct to consumers.
If Home isn’t a hit, though, an echo is all Google may hear in the home of the future.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.