Amazon shows the Alexa feature that mimics the voices of your dead relatives

Amazon has unveiled an experimental Alexa feature that allows the AI ​​Assistant to mimic the voices of users’ dead relatives.

The company demonstrated the feature at its annual MARS conference, showing a video in which a child asks Alexa to read a bedtime story in the voice of her dead grandmother.

“As you saw in this experience, instead of Alexa’s voice reading the book, it’s the child’s grandmother’s voice,” said Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s lead researcher for Alexa AI. Prasad introduced the clip by saying that adding “human traits” to AI systems became increasingly important “in these times of the ongoing pandemic where so many of us have lost one we love.”

“While AI cannot eliminate the pain of loss, it can certainly make their memories last,” Prasad said. You can see the demo itself below:

Amazon has given no indication of whether this feature will ever be released, but says their systems can learn to mimic a person’s voice from just a single minute of recorded sound. In an age of abundant videos and voice notes, this means that it is well within the reach of the average consumer to clone voices from loved ones – or anyone else they like.

Although this specific application is already controversial, with users on social media calling the feature “creepy” and a “monster”, such AI voice mimicry has become more and more common in recent years. These imitations are often known as “audio deepfakes” and are already used regularly in industries such as podcasting, film and television and video games.

Many sound recording suites offer e.g. users the ability to clone individual voices from their recordings. That way, if a podcast host e.g. fluxes on his line, a sound engineer can edit what they have said simply by entering a new script. Replicating seamless speech lines requires a lot of work, but very small edits can be made with a few clicks.

The same technology has also been used in movies. Last year, it was revealed that a documentary about the life of chef Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018, used AI to clone his voice to read quotes from emails he sent. Many fans were disgusted by the use of the technology, calling it “weak-minded” and “deceptive”. Others defended the use of the technology as equal to other reconstructions used in documentaries.

Amazon’s Prasad said the feature could enable customers to have “lasting personal relationships” with the deceased, and it is certainly true that many people around the world already use AI for this purpose. People have already created chatbots that mimic deceased loved ones, for example, train AI based on stored conversations. Adding accurate voices to these systems – or even video avatars – is entirely possible using today’s AI technology and is likely to become more widespread.

Whether customers want their deceased loved ones to become digital AI dolls or not is, however, a completely different matter.

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