Pacific Northwest Software Symposium

November 8 - 10, 2019

The Talking App: An introduction to developing Alexa skills

Sunday - Nov 10 4:00 PM

Craig Walls

Craig Walls

Author of Spring in Action

In this example-driven session, we'll explore the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and see how to develop skills for Amazon's Alexa. You'll learn how to use the ASK CLI to jumpstart skill development and how to create conversational applications in NodeJS.

The way we communicate with our applications is an ever-evolving experience. Punch cards gave way to keyboards. Typing on keyboards was then supplemented by pointing and clicking with a mouse. And touch screens on our phones, tablets, and computers are now a common means of communicating with applications.

These all lack one thing, however: They aren’t natural.

As humans, we often communicate with each other through speech. If you were to walk up to another human and start tapping them, you’d likely be tapped (or punched) in response. But when we talk to our applications, we communicate on the machine’s terms, with keyboards, mice, and touch screens. Even though we may use these same devices to communicate with other humans, it’s really the machine we are communicating with—​and those machines relay what we type, click, and tap to another human using a similar device.

Voice user-interfaces (Voice UIs) enable us to communicate with our application in a human way. They give our applications the means to communicate to us on our terms, using voice. With a voice UI, we can converse with our applications in much the same way we might talk with our friends.

Voice UIs are truly the next logical step in the evolution of human-computer interaction. And this evolutionary step is long overdue. For as long as most of us can remember, science fiction has promised us the ability to talk to our computers. The robot from Lost in Space, the Enterprise computer on Star Trek, Iron Man’s Jarvis, and HAL 9000 (okay, maybe a bad example) are just a few well-recognized examples of science fiction promising a future where humans and computers would talk to each other.

Our computers are far more powerful today than the writers of science fiction would have imagined. And the tablet that Captain Picard used in his ready room on Star Trek: The Next Generation is now available with the iPad and other tablet devices. But only recently have voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant given us the talking computer promised to us by science-fiction.

About Craig Walls

Craig Walls is a principal engineer with Pivotal and is the author of Spring in Action and Spring Boot in Action. He's a zealous promoter of the Spring Framework, speaking frequently at local user groups and conferences and writing about Spring. When he's not slinging code, Craig is planning his next trip to Disney World or Disneyland and spending as much time as he can with his wife, two daughters, 2 birds and 3 dogs.