Whether you find it comforting or creepy rather depends on your disposition, but Amazon has found a way to get Alexa to speak in the voice of anyone — including a deceased relative.
The feature was explained by Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for the Alexa team, during Amazon’s Re:Mars conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 22.
Prasad said engineers had deployed A.I. technology to create a way for its digital assistant to mimic a voice after listening to “less than a minute” of recorded audio of the person speaking, while before hours of studio recordings would’ve been required.
In a demonstration video played at the event, a child says, “Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me The Wizard of Oz?” After acknowledging the child’s request in its usual voice, Alexa began speaking in a voice very similar to that of the child’s grandmother.
Prasad said engineers are still working on improving what is essentially a deepfake feature, and declined to say when Amazon might release it so that interested customers can get long-gone Grandad back up and running.
If raising the dead seems a bit much, you could also get Alexa to speak in the voice of someone living, such as your child, brother, sister, mom, dad, best buddy, or even yourself.
But at Wednesday’s event, Prasad highlighted the fact that the feature could be used to retain the memory of a loved one who has passed away, noting how many people have lost special people during the pandemic.
“While A.I. can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make the memories last,” he said.
The feature is one step away from enabling people to have natural and meaningful conversations with the dearly departed that include opinions and references to past events linked to that person, similar to an early Black Mirror episode (Be Right Back, season 2) where a woman is able to communicate with her late partner through messaging.
Amazon has made a small move toward this with Alexa’s Conversation Mode, which is aimed at offering more natural voice experiences with the digital assistant. Marry this with the voice of a deceased relative, and feed in some personality data for Amazon’s A.I. to process, and science fiction could soon become science fact.
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