Would You Use This? Amazon’s Alexa Could Soon Speak in a Dead Relative’s Voice

Sorry, what?



BETHESDA, MD - JANUARY 29: Laura Labovich, background, and her children Asher, right, 13, and Emerson, left, 10, with the family "Alexa", an artificial intelligence device, on January, 29, 2017 in Bethesda, MD. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Photo by: The Washington Post

The Washington Post

By: Amanda Mushro

While Amazon's Alexa is great for setting a timer for you while you cook, giving you a quick weather update, and telling you and your kids a few jokes, a new feature is in the works for the smart device and has some people feeling uneasy while others are totally on board.

The traditional female voice of Alexa could be replaced on all of your Amazon devices with the voice of a relative that has passed away. Creepy? Heartwarming? We can’t decide.

"While AI can't eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last," said Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for Alexa.

When talking about this new feature, Prasad said, "Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me 'The Wizard of Oz'?" and the device changed to a woman reading the famous novel. Imagine letting a loved one still be heard and a part of sweet routines like reading bedtime stories. See? Heartwarming.

"One thing that surprised me the most about Alexa is the companionship relationship we have with it," Prasad explained. "In this companionship role, human attributes of empathy and affect are key to building trust."

To create the feature, Prasad said Amazon researchers had to learn how to make a "high-quality voice" with a shorter recording as opposed to hours of recording in a studio. Meaning you may be able to use a voicemail or a video of your loved one for Alexa to be able to adapt and learn the tone, pitch, and accent of your family member.

Responses to this new technology were mixed, obviously. Some took to Twitter to say this technology could be used the wrong way to create deepfakes. These are video or audio recordings that are made with AI to make it appear as if someone did or said something that never happened. Could this technology be used to steal someone’s identity after they have passed away? Honestly, it sounds like the plot of a movie but also a very real possibility.

However, others say this technology could help family and friends through the grief process and be a sweet reminder of their loved one. For families who have to rely on videos on their phones, old home movies or voice recordings, this new feature would help them hear their loved one's voice whenever they felt like they needed to hear it.

If you’re not ready to part with the current voice of Alexa so that your grandparents can take over, that’s totally fine. After all, the feature is still in development, and Amazon won’t say when it will launch publicly. For now, you can change up her voice with the voice of celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal and Samuel L. Jackson or characters like Marvel’s Deadpool and Star Wars’ R2-D2.


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