The company announced Wednesday at its annual re: MARS conference, which focuses on innovation in artificial intelligence, that it is working on an update to its Alexa system that will allow the technology to mimic any voice, even a deceased family member.
Rohit Prasad, a senior vice president of Amazon, said the updated system will be able to collect enough voice data from less than a minute of audio to allow for personalization like this, rather than someone spending hours in a recording studio. like how it was done in the past. Prasad did not elaborate on when this position might start. Amazon declined to comment on a timeline.
The concept stems from the fact that Amazon is looking for new ways to add more “human qualities” to artificial intelligence, especially “in these times of the ongoing pandemic where so many of us have lost someone we love” Prasad said. “While AI can’t take away that pain of loss, it can certainly make their memories last.”
Adam Wright, senior analyst at IDC Research, said he sees the value of Amazon’s efforts.
“I think Amazon is interested in this because they have the capabilities and technology, and they’re always looking for ways to improve the smart assistant and smart home experience,” Wright said. “Whether it drives a deeper connection with Alexa, or just becomes a skill some people indulge in from time to time, remains to be seen.”
Amazon’s foray into personalized Alexa voices may struggle most with the uncanny valley effect — recreating a voice so similar to that of a loved one, but not quite right, leading to rejection from real people.
“There are certainly some risks, for example if the voice and the resulting AI interactions don’t match well with the loved ones’ memories of that person,” said ABI Research’s Micheal Inouye. “For some they will see this as creepy or downright terrible, but for others it can be looked at in a deeper way, such as the example set by letting a child hear the voice of their grandparents, perhaps for the first time and on a way that’s not a strict recording from the past.”
However, the mixed reactions to these kinds of announcements show how society will have to adapt in the coming years to the promise of innovations and their ultimate reality.
“We’re definitely going to see more experiments and trials like this — and at least until we get a higher level of comfort or these things become more mainstream, there’s still going to be a wide range of reactions,” he said.