Don’t laugh at or ignore Amazon’s new home virtual assistant appliance.

Amazon surprised everyone Thursday by unceremoniously launching a product called Echo.The Internet-connected hardware device provides support for Amazon’s virtual assistant platform. That platform, called Alexa, works like Apple’s Siri, Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana. You talk to Alexa using Echo’s microphone. Alexa talks back through Echo’s speakers. Alexa does things for you. It answers your questions. Read more here.