Saturday, June 25, 2022

Alexa can channel the voices of the dead, Amazon says

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Alexa will be able to speak to the voices of the dead, Amazon has said.

The voice assistant will be able to channel dead people and speak as they would, the company said. The feature will be available in an upcoming update.

Amazon noted that Alexa would speak this way, “not eliminate [the] pain of loss”. But it hopes the new Alexa voices will “make her memories last,” nodding to the pandemic and the fact that “so many of us have lost someone we love.”

The feature only requires one minute of recorded audio to be fed into the system. Artificial intelligence can then use that recording to construct an entire voice, Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s chief scientist for Alexa AI, said in an announcement.

Amazon didn’t say when the feature would be rolling out to customers, or definitely indicated it would be rolling out to the public at all. But in its announcement it appeared to show that the feature works, channeling the voice of what appears to be a dead grandmother so it can read to a child.

In its announcement, it featured a child telling Alexa, “I want grandma to finish reading The Wizard of Oz to me.” Immediately, Alexa recognized the command and changed his voice, adopting a soothing and less robotic voice, and read the book aloud.

The development of artificial materials that can convincingly recreate human voices has led to their common use in the production of films and other content. In the new movie Top Gun: Maverickfor example, Val Kilmer’s lines were read by an artificial intelligence system that was able to reconstruct his voice before it was affected by his cancer.

But such technologies have also been heavily criticized by the public, who have often labeled them as creepy or deceptive. For example, in response to such concerns, Microsoft has restricted access to similar voice playback tools over fears that they could be used to create deepfakes or other misleading audio.

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