For millions around the world, the robotic voice of Amazonn’s Alexa is an endless source of information, news and music. But few people know that it was engineer Rohit Prasad who was instrumental in creating the now-famous virtual assistant.
Along with his colleague Toni Reid, the India-born Prasad is often named one of the names in tech to watch. After joining Amazonn in 2013, he began working as the head scientist on the Alexa artificial intelligence team a year later. “The journey has been exciting. If you look at five years back talking to a device from a distance, in the midst of a lot of noise, was just science fiction,” Prasad recently told the Times of India.
Prasad also told the paper that what made Alexa stand out was that it is completely hands free, which he said allows users to seamlessly address their needs without taking the time to locate their smartphones or log into a website. “That’s too many steps,” he noted. “Instead, you can just tell Alexa, ‘turn on the garage light.’
Of course for many users a major concern is just how much digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home are recording and storing about their lives. In an interview with Wired in 2016, Prasad said he understood those concerns. “The cloud is not listening to you. It’s only on the device, acting as a detector, not a recognizer recognizing all words,” he explained. “It’s detecting whether Alexa is spoken versus something else. Once it determines Alexa was spoken to the device at a very high confidence, only then do we start streaming to the cloud.”