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Alexa will speak in the voice of the dead

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Alexa will speak in the voice of the dead

On stage at the annual Amazon re: Mars conference – the conference dedicated to the topics of Automation, Robotics and Space underway in Las Vegas – an executive responsible for the development of Alexa, Rohit Prasadshowed a short video to illustrate a new feature of Amazon’s personal assistant: a child asks Alexa to read the bedtime story with the voice of the deceased grandmother. The goal, Prasad said, is “to make memories last” after “so many have lost someone they love” during the pandemic or for other reasons.

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In short, Amazon wants to make sure that Alexa imitates the voice of anyone with only a minute of audio necessary to make them “learn” to speak as friends, relatives and acquaintances, even if they have disappeared.

Alexa, the personal assistant introduced by Amazon in 2014 has now become ubiquitous in all products and services of the company (which is planning to send it into space by the end of the year, Orion boron as a demonstration for NASA of the Callisto I mission), is getting more and more intelligent. But not “so” smart as to get it wrong for one person. Except when Alexa is trained to imitate her.

The chosen example – the voice of the grandmother speaking from beyond the grave – is perhaps a bit eerie, but the basic idea is that: Amazon wants to give its customers the possibility of having Alexa speak like any person whose voice you have at least one minute of recorded voice.

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The new feature, which Amazon announced in the past few hours in Las Vegas but has not yet declared when it will be released, goes against the trend of what the other tech giants are doing. Microsoft, for example, worried about potential abuse, has decided to reduce the number of customers (mostly businesses) who can use a similar feature on its speech synthesis software. If the idea is noble, for example helping people with speech problems to express themselves more fluently, there is a fear that a technology of this type can also be used to create political deepfakes or simple scams.

Amazon is following a strategy that aims to make money Alexa a tool of “democratization of artificial intelligence“, Making it available for end users but also for small companies, which can create additional functionalities (skills) related to their products and services without having to bear the costs of developing sophisticated systems such as Alexa.

The image of the child asking Alexa to read him the story (the Wizard of Oz) with the voice of the grandmother and hearing a moment later the digital assistant that changes voice and “transforms” into a voice that we can imagine is that of the deceased grandmother triggered an applause in the Aria hotel room of Las Vegas when it was shown. A very emotional and perhaps too gloomy “miracle” of technology but certainly one of the possible futures that are materializing.

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