My Amazon Echo arrived last night and over the course of about thirty minutes my wife, children, and I fell in love. Alexa, the Amazon Siri, shows impressive abilities in voice recognition and has a multitude of other “skills” that you can enable using the paired app on your mobile device. Even my seven year old daughter was able to communicate with Alexa — after about a minute of sage advice on talking too fast from your’s truly.
We quickly learned how to control the volume in response to endless requests for “Alexa, play the final countdown” from my nine year old Journey fan. We started a new shopping list. We listened to cat jokes. We switched to our local NPR newsflash for a summary of the day’s events.
What really amazed me as a healthcare technologist is just how easy it is to develop new skills (apps) for Alexa, and what the impact of this new app technology could be on healthcare as a whole. To say it’s revolutionary is truly an understatement.
Behind Alexa is a service called Amazon Lambda that allows developers to easily write code that can become an Alexa skill. Lambda functions can be instantly deployed to the cloud, and the developer is charged for the CPU time used. Amazon takes care of routing the requests from your Alexa, manages all of the security infrastructure needed, and starts each skill as needed, then shuts it down when done.
The lambda toolkit offers a whole new approach to creating highly functional healthcare applications for voice and lowers the technical entry costs by orders of magnitude. It’s now easy to imagine a single developer pairing with a MD to create sophisticated applications using a pay as you go model. Such apps could be deployed within the hospital, or directly to patients and other healthcare consumers with a minimal investment in startup funds.
I know what I’ll be playing with this weekend!