Amazon’s Alexa will soon be able to read you with the voice of a deceased loved one
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Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, has a pleasant, feminine voice by default. Of course, there are ways to change the voice you hear on Amazon Echo and other compatible devices. But the American tech multinational recently announced plans to let users customize Alexa’s voice in a new and very personal way.
At re:MARS 2022, Amazon’s global AI event for machine learning, automation, robotics and space, the company unveiled a new Alexa feature in the works. An Alexa-enabled device could read aloud using the voice of a deceased loved one based on a brief recording.
Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and chief scientist of Alexa, said in his keynote at the June 22 event that he was surprised by the level of camaraderie users have developed with the digital assistant.
“In this role of companionship, the human attributes of empathy and affect are key to building trust. These attributes have become even more important in these times of the ongoing pandemic where so many of us have lost someone we love,” he said. “While AI can’t take away that pain of loss, it certainly can make their memories last.”
Prasad then showed the following Amazon Web Services clip of a feature he said would enable “lasting personal relationships.”
In the video, a young boy asks Alexa if Grandma can finish reading “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Instead of Alexa’s voice reading the book, it’s the voice of the child’s grandmother,” Prasad explained. “We had to learn how to produce a high quality voice with less than a minute of recording time.”
Responses to the ad are mixed, according to those who have viewed the video.
“Would love to have Alexa speak to me in my dad’s voice,” wrote a YouTube viewer with the handle T H. “I lost it 2 years ago. I’m 36 and I don’t care who is judging me.
However, the overwhelming feeling seems to be negative.
“Do people really want this technology to exist? Just because it could mean it should,” commenter Antony posted.
“This vocal stuff should never see the light of day, period,” MoistGoat said. “It has so many ethical and moral implications, like cloning. Then you also have security implications, psychological impact on the grieving process, etc. Amazon’s quest for money has hit a new low, I guess.
Previously, Amazon offered the ability to hear a celebrity’s voice when speaking to the virtual assistant. For a one-time purchase, you can interact with the voices of people like Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy, or Shaquille O’Neal. You can also change Alexa’s default voice to a male voice by saying, “Alexa, change your voice.”
During the re:Mars conference, Amazon also highlighted other aspects of its technological vision, such as its Just Walk Out technology which allows customers to leave stores without going through checkouts, “ambient intelligence which integrates into people’s daily lives, its Astro robot home surveillance, machine-assisted coding, and ventures into outer space.
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