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Conference calls are terrible. Amazon thinks Alexa can fix them

By Dave Gershgorn

Amazon is trying to make Alexa the new center of office life.

The company is building a new set of skills for the virtual assistant, as well as opening a marketplace for other companies to develop specific voice commands, according to reports from CNBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Alexa, which launched three years ago as a virtual assistant that could play music and answer simple questions, will now be tasked with booking conference rooms, setting up conference lines, and managing travel plans.

With a single command, (“Alexa, start the meeting”) the virtual assistant could be able to turn off the room’s lights, lower blinds, and start a project, according to WSJ. Alexa already has the ability to make calls to other Alexa devices; the new software would expand that capability.

Companies like WeWork and SAP’s Concur are already building software for Alexa that allows it to enable workers to control the temperature, lights, and conference systems in conference rooms, or ask Alexa when they should leave to catch a flight.

As companies like Apple have learned, having a dedicated ecosystem of developers working to bring software to your platform can mean life or death for your product; Amazon has built about 20,000 skills for the platform, while others like Microsoft’s Cortana only have about 200. The jury is still out on whether people will actually use those skills.

Amazon is expected to launch the business-focused initiative Thursday (Nov. 30), at its re:Invent developer conference.