People should probably warn house guests about the presence of Alexa, the cloud-connected digital assistant that lives inside of Amazon's low-profile speaker.

Amazon recently unveiled the Echo, a cylindrical speaker unit that could make the unwitting think the product's owners were giving commands to a space heater.

The top of the Echo is fitted an array of far-field mics, so owners don't even have to look at the unit or stand near it to chuck questions at it. And with Alexa's machine-learning education, the voice assistant will continue to increase its intelligence as Amazon feeds more apps and certifications into its cloud.

Before diving into all of the Echo's features, a word on Alexa's heritage.

Back in 1999, Amazon purchased webcrawler Alexa Internet. The Echo's ties to the webcrawler aren't clear, but Alexa Internet scours the web for information and reports back to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library that offers free access to books, movies, music and 435 billion archived web pages.

If the Echo unit seems a bit complex or way more capable than any portable speaker should, it's because Amazon poured a lot of ingenuity into the product's build and breathed life into it via the e-commerce's sites Amazon Web Services platform. The same engine that knows just what to offer consumers next has been given a voice.

The Echo connects back Amazon Web Services via Wi-Fi, exchanges information with local hardware via Bluetooth and politely responds to humans via its microphone array.

After getting Alexa's attention by calling her name, users can query the voice assistant about any tidbit of information that's available on the Internet. Users can also ask Alexa to pull up media streams or jot down reminders and shopping lists.

For news and music, Alexa can retrieve and play streams from the likes of ESPN and NPR. The voice assistant can also stream music on playlists set up on other devices, requiring only that the user tells the voice assistant what compilation to play.

Amazon promises to keep Alexa updated with whatever new features it pours into its cloud platform, but the digital assistant will use the gifts it already has to learn things about its users such as speech patterns and word preferences.

Despite Alexa's ability to adapt and grow through Amazon updates, the tech world appears split on whether the Echo is a must-have addition for every smart home or just another voice assistant that'll suck all of the patience out of the room when it doesn't understand queries. The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri is leaning toward the latter camp.

"I could just sit in the middle of your home and Google things for you," states Petri. "And on the whole it would be much less creepy."

The Amazon Echo will retail at $199, when it's ready for release. At that time, it should be clear if the new house guest is too ambitious or a must-have product this holiday season.

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