Developer

Amazon Lex, managed AI services behind Alexa, now open to all AWS customers

On Wednesday, Amazon Web Services announced that it was opening up its AI system Amazon Lex to all customers. Here's what you need to know.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

Developers now have a new way to bring conversational capabilities to their apps: Amazon Lex, the artificial intelligence (AI) service used to create applications that can interact with users via voice and text, is now available to all Amazon Web Services customers, the company announced on Wednesday.

Amazon Lex is the technology behind Amazon Alexa, and operates using sophisticated deep learning algorithms, according to a press release.

"Thousands of machine learning and deep learning experts across Amazon have been developing AI technologies for years, and Amazon Alexa includes some of the most sophisticated and powerful deep learning technologies in existence," said Raju Gulabani, vice president of databases, analytics, and AI at AWS, in the release.

Lex was previously only available in a developer preview. However, Gulabani noted that companies like Capital One, Hubspot, and Liberty Mutual have now built on the platform.

SEE: Amazon Alexa: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

In the past, it's been difficult for developers to build, deploy, and broadly scale apps with automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU) abilities, because those features required training complex deep learning algorithms on large data sets, the press release stated. However, Amazon Lex makes this process far easier on developers, as it offers those technologies as a fully managed service.

"With Amazon Lex, developers can build and test conversational apps that perform tasks such as checking the weather or latest news, booking travel, ordering food, getting the latest sales or marketing data from business software, or controlling a connecting device," the press release stated.

A developer can build a conversational app with Amazon Lex by entering sample phrases describing what a user needs, followed by the information Amazon Lex needs to complete the request, as well as any questions the technology would need to ask in order to fulfill the user's request. The press release gives the example of travel: A developer could program Lex to respond to a user's wish to "book a flight," and know to request corresponding information such as travel date and destination. The technology then builds a machine learning model that can translate the speech or text input by the users, understand the intent, and manage the conversation to get more information.

Amazon Lex is also integrated with AWS Lambda, which allows developers run code without provisioning or managing servers. The technology also includes built-in connections that makes it possible for conversational apps to access data from SaaS applications including Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk, and QuickBooks. That way, apps built with Amazon Lex can answer questions such as "What are my top 10 accounts in Salesforce?" by accessing that data.

SEE: How to become an Alexa developer: The smart person's guide

Developers can publish apps created with Amazon Lex to mobile and internet of things (IoT) devices, as well as web applications and chat services, including Slack and Facebook Messenger, the release stated. They also don't have to consider managing infrastructure, as Amazon Lex handles the authentication required by different platforms, and scales automatically as traffic increases.

As mentioned, a number of different organizations are already using Amazon Lex to improve their apps, according to the release. The American Heart Association uses Lex's AI technology to streamline the registration process for local Heart Walk events, so people who want to participate can sign up via a simple voice command.

Freshdesk, a provider of cloud-based customer engagement software, added Amazon Lex to its platform, allowing customers to use natural language to "handle administrative tasks, review metrics and provide support, ultimately simplifying ticket management," said Francesco Rovetta, vice president of alliances at Freshdesk, in the release.

Opening up Amazon Lex to all AWS customers represents another move by Amazon to try and dominate the chatbot space. In March, Amazon unveiled a new program that will allow developers to build and host Alexa skills on AWS at a lower cost. The company also recently added new features that make Alexa more useful for enterprises.

Developers can get started with Amazon Lex using the AWS Management Console, AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), or AWS SDKs. The service is currently available in the US East region. To begin using Amazon Lex, click here.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Wednesday, Amazon Web Services announced that Amazon Lex, the artificial intelligence (AI) service used to create applications that can interact with users via voice and text, and the technology behind Amazon Alexa, is now available to all customers.

2. Amazon Lex leverages deep learning algorithms to help developers build, deploy, and broadly scale apps with automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding abilities.

3. Opening up Amazon Lex to a broader audience represents another move by Amazon to dominate the chatbot space, and become the AI provider of choice for the enterprise.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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