Alexa, how can we improve you? - Baltimore

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Alexa, how can we improve you?

Johns Hopkins is one of four universities getting special Alexa access from Amazon.

Is there an Echo in here?

(Photo via Amazon)

Johns Hopkins University is getting some help from Amazon to advance voice-tech research.

Amazon formally launched the Alexa Fund Fellowship on Thursday, and JHU is one of the first four universities to get support.

The award means Hopkins will have a doctoral student dubbed the “Alexa Fellow,” who will mentor master’s students in a new program for studying topics like speech recognition and text-to-speech. The students will team up in teams of two to four, and test new algorithms in those areas. Plus, they get access to Alexa. The yearlong program is slated to begin in the fall.

While the Amazon Echo is a relatively recent entrant to the commercial market, Hopkins was likely tapped because of its experience in the field that goes back two decades. According to the JHU Hub, Hopkins has existing work in technology related to speech and language through the Center for Speech and Language Processing.

As CNBC points out, there’s also a business reason here. Amazon wants Alexa to get better before Google or other companies develop their voice-control products. Opening it to third-party developers and now universities only helps that happen faster.

The other universities that received awards were Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Southern California and Canada’s University of Waterloo.

Hopkins has been partnering with more tech giants lately. The university is working with Facebook’s Building 8, and is set to bring Toshiba into its innovation hub.

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