We're all intensely familiar with the sound of 'Alexa's' rather monotone voice, so when Amazon announced they would be shaking up the robot's voice range, people were thrilled. However, the resulting product may be slightly different than what the people had in mind. Personally, we were thinking of an Irish accent or maybe an Australian one. But no, they're promising us that we will be able to have Alexa ressemble a deceased family member.
Last week, at the annual re: MARS conference, Amazon took to the stage to make its big announcement. Addressing the conference, a hub for artificial intelligence (AI) innovation, the corporate giant presented a video to show how 'Alexa' will soon be able to imitate any voice, even one which is no longer alive. In the video, the tiny robot was seen reading a story to a young boy in the voice of his deceased grandmother.
According to Amazon senior vice president Rohit Prasad, the new technology will be able to collect data from under a minute of audio and personalize the voice accordingly. This AI system even created three lines in the Anthony Bourdain documentary. Although many criticized its use, they couldn't deny how strongly it sounded like the star. As Micheal Inouye of ABI Research pointed out, "there are certainly some risks, such as if the voice and resulting AI interactions don't match well with the loved ones' memories of that individual." Referred to as 'the uncanny valley effect,' the almost-exact voice will be rejected by humans.
Overall, this is all part of the industry's attempts to humanize artificial intelligence. Prasad explained that in a pandemic world, where many are losing loved ones, this could help with the loss and ensure long-lasting memories. As fascinating as this all is, it begs the obvious question: is this an exciting development for those dealing with grief, or has AI and technology as a whole gone too far?