The latest iteration of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant might sound strangely familiar. The company announced during its annual re:MARS conference, which focuses on artificial intelligence innovation, that it is working on an update to its Alexa system that would allow the technology to mimic any voice, even a deceased family member.
In a video shown on stage, Amazon demonstrated how, instead of Alexa’s signature voice reading a story to a boy, it was his grandmother’s voice.
+ Lula says that Brazil needs to take care of the Amazon and indigenous people
Rohit Prasad, senior vice president at Amazon, said the upgraded system will be able to collect enough voice data in less than a minute of audio to make customization like this possible, rather than someone spending hours in a recording studio as was done in past. Prasad did not detail when this feature might be released. Amazon declined to comment on a timeline.
The concept stems from Amazon looking for new ways to add more “human attributes” to artificial intelligence, especially “in these ongoing pandemic times when many of us have lost someone we love,” Prasad said. “While AI cannot eliminate the pain of loss, it can definitely make your memories last.”
Amazon has long used recognizable voices, such as the real voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy, and Shaquille O’Neal, to voice Alexa. But AI’s recreations of people’s voices have also gotten better and better in recent years, particularly with the use of AI and deepfake technology. For example, three lines in Anthony Bourdain’s documentary “Roadrunner” were generated by AI, even though they appeared to have been spoken by the late media personality. (This particular case caused an uproar because it was not clear in the film that the dialogue was AI generated and had not been approved by the Bourdain estate.) “We may have a documentary ethics panel on that later,” director Morgan Neville told The New Yorker when the film opened last year.
Most recently, actor Val Kilmer, who lost his voice to throat cancer, partnered with startup Sonantic to create an AI-powered voice for him in the new movie “Top Gun: Maverick.” The company used archival audio footage of Kilmer to teach an algorithm to speak like the actor, according to Variety.
Adam Wright, a senior analyst at IDC Research, said he sees value in Amazon’s effort. “I think Amazon is interested in doing this because they have the capability and the technology and are always looking for ways to elevate the smart assistant and smart home experience,” Wright said. “Whether this leads to a deeper connection with Alexa, or just becomes a skill that some people dabble in from time to time, remains to be seen.”
Amazon’s foray into custom Alexa voices may have a harder time with the mystery valley effect – recreating a voice that is so similar to a loved one’s but not quite certain, which leads to rejection by real humans.
“Certainly there are some risks, such as if the voice and resulting interactions of the AI don’t mesh well with the memories of that individual’s loved ones,” said Micheal Inouye of ABI Research. “For some they will see this as scary or terrifying, but for others it can be seen in a more profound way, like the example given by allowing a child to hear the voice of their grandparents, perhaps for the first time and in a way that is not it is a strict recording of the past.”
He believes, however, that the mixed reactions to announcements like this speak to how society will have to adjust to the promise of innovation and its eventual reality in the coming years.
“We will definitely see more of these types of experiments and tests – and at least until we get a higher comfort level or these things become more popular, there will still be a wider range of responses,” he said.
#Amazon #Alexa #imitate #voices #deceased #loved