Skip to main content

Alexa might start sounding more human thanks to new SSML tags from Amazon

You can almost convince yourself that Amazon’s Alexa is the best friend you never had. She’s always there to listen, she’s always there to help, and she’s always there with a response. But alas, sometimes the way in which those responses are delivered reminds you that she is nothing but an artificially intelligent voice. Amazon wants to help you forget that by making Alexa sound a bit more human.

On Thursday, Amazon announced a series of new Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) tags that will help developers control Alexa’s intonations a bit better than before, making her sound more sophisticated — or at least, more like us. Those new tags have debuted in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, and include whispers, expletive bleeps, and emphasis.

So what do the five new tags do? There’s whisper, which is quite self-explanatory — developers can use this tag when they want Alexa to engage in softer dialogue. As for expletive beeps, Alexa can now censor herself when she comes upon a naughty word. Developers can use the <sub> tag when they want Alexa to deviate a bit from her script, and the <emphasis> tag to change the rate and volume at which Alexa speaks. Finally, the new Prosody tag can be used to manipulate the volume, pitch, and rate of speech. Soon, Alexa will be pausing, whispering, and pretending to curse just like we do.

Of course, Alexa already has plenty of human-like qualities, or at least, qualities intended to make you believe she’s more human than she is. She can tell jokes, respond in kind to “I love you,” and get downright existential for the most philosophical of her users. But making her sound more like a person could go a long way in endearing her to you and your family.

Developers interested in learning how to make Alexa sound more like a real friend — which she isn’t — can join Amazon for a live webinar on SSML on May 18.

Editors' Recommendations

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
What is Amazon Alexa, and what can it do?
Echo 4th Gen speaker on table.

Alexa is Amazon’s interactive voice assistant that can do just about everything. Whether you want to check your calendar, launch your favorite playlists, check the weather, or get the latest info on your local sports teams, Alexa is up to the challenge. Available on Echo speakers, smart thermostats, soundbars, lamps, and lights, and right on your phone through the Alexa app, Alexa makes it easy to streamline your life.

In this guide, we explain where Alexa comes from, exactly how Alexa works, where Alexa gets its name, and more.
Who/what is Alexa?

Read more
Amazon starts drone delivery trials in California and Texas
Amazon's delivery drone carrying a package.

Amazon has launched drone delivery trials in a couple of new locations in California and Texas.

David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air Amazon, announced the development on LinkedIn. His post included a photo (below) showing one of its drones carrying a small box on the end of a tether.

Read more
The best Alexa skills to use on your Amazon Echo in 2023
Amazon Echo Show 15 Smart Display on a wall.

Your Alexa-enabled device is a standout gateway into the world of smart home automation. Using voice commands and the intuitive Alexa companion app, Alexa owners can control web-connected devices like smart security cameras, door locks, and A/V hardware like the Amazon Fire Stick 4K Max. In addition to schedule management and other great features, did you know that Alexa is capable of many "skills" too?

Alexa skills are small, free apps (though a few do have a subscription fee) you can download to add functionalities to your smart devices. You can install skills to use voice commands to call Lyft, get Alexa to read you a bedtime story, or turn Alexa into a cooking assistant.

Read more