Teacher: “Alexa, open English Teacher.”

Alexa: “Good morning, class. What do you want to learn today? Prepositions, pronouns, or articles?”

Teacher: “Open pronouns for class two, section C.”

Alexa: “Ok! I would like Ravi and Anusha to come forward for a small activity,” calling two children from that class. 

“Kids, Ravi went to the market to buy eggs but she did not find any. Is this right or wrong, children?”

“Wrong!” the children shout in unison.

The teacher here is using e-commerce giant Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant to teach a class of 50. The device ‘speaks’ in an Indian accent (and a default female voice) thereby making it easier for the students to follow its diction.

This is a school that was once struggling to find an English teacher. Alexa may have fixed that problem.

It has been a year since Alexa came to India. Thanks to a community of 40,000 developers who have developed over 19,000 voice skills for Alexa, it can now do more than answer what is the factorial of sixty (product of an integer and all integers below it). Voice skills are to Alexa what apps are to Android or iOS.

“Schools struggle to find English teachers, which is why we decided to build this English Teacher skill for pre-primary and primary children,” says Vishnu Saran, founder of Voice Qube, a company that makes voice skills. Saran is looking to do a beta launch of this skill by the end of this month at the Gokavaram Govt School in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh.

However, Alexa’s most popular use cases continue to be rather basic. Games, music, and questions about the weather are mostly what people currently use the device for.

In the long run, though, it could prove useful for skills that make it worth the Amazon’s while. Skills like shopping, making payments, or discovering new products. This is part of Amazon’s Star Trek vision of Alexa being able to take voice commands for just about everything. 

Bezos' pillars

Jeff Bezos called Alexa the fourth pillar for the company after e-commerce, its cloud business Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the subscription service Prime

But right now, what stands between Amazon and its vision is the kind of skills being built for Alexa. As one of the partners working with Amazon said, “Most developers are approaching voice skill building as a hobby. They are solving their own problems rather than creating a user base.”

As a result, the skills in the store have no consistency.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

View Full Profile

Subscribe to read this story

The Ken is the only business subscription you need. Questions?

 

Premium

  • 5 original and reported longform business stories every week
  • Access to ONLY India edition
  • Close to 250 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters
  • 4 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to ONLY Southeast Asia edition
  • Close to 200 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to all paywalled stories since March 2020
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters

Rs. 2,750 /year

$ 120 /year

India Edition
Subscribe Subscribe
Most Asked For

Borderless

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories

Rs. 4,200 /year

Subscribe
 

Echelon

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories
  • Bonus annual gift subscription
  • Priority access to all new products and features

Rs. 8,474 /year

Subscribe
Or

Questions?

What kind of subscription plans do you offer?

We have three types of subscriptions
- Premium which gives you access to either the India or the Southeast Asia edition.
- Borderless which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions
- Echelon which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions along with a bonus gift subscription

What do I get if I subscribe?

The Premium edition gives you access to stories in that edition along with any five subscriber-only newsletters of your choice.

The Borderless and Echelon subscription gives you complete access to The Ken across editions and unlimited access to as many newsletters as you like.

What topics do you usually write about?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics. We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

Our specialised subscriber-only newsletters are written by our expert, award-winning journalists and cover a range of topics across finance, retail, clean energy, cryptocurrency, ed-tech and many more.

How many newsletters do you have?

We are constantly adding specialised subscriber-only newsletters all the time. All of these are written by our team of award-winning journalists on a specialised topic.

You can see the list of newsletters that we publish over here.

Does a Premium subscription to your Indian edition get me access to the Southeast Asia edition? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

We recommend the Borderless or the Echelon Plan which will give you access to stories across both editions.

Do you have a mobile app?

Yes! We have a top-rated mobile app on both iOS and Android which allows you to read on-the-go and has some amazing features like the ability to bookmark stories, save on your device, dark mode, and much more. It’s really the best way to read The Ken.

Is there a free trial?

You can sign up for a free account to experience The Ken and understand our products better. We’ll send you some free stories and newsletters occasionally, and you can access our archive of previously published free stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

The vast majority of our stories, articles and newsletters can be accessed only by a paid subscription.

Do you offer any discounts?

Sorry, no. Our journalism is funded completely by our subscribers. We believe that quality journalism comes at a price, and readers trust and pay us so that we can remain independent.

Do you offer refunds?

No. We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Just write to us at [email protected] with details. We’ll help you out.

I have a few more questions. How can I reach out to you?

Sure. Just email us at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.