Amazon features Alexa speaking in the voice of a dead relative


“Hey alexawhat’s another word for ‘creepy’?”

In a demo that drew comparisons to the dystopian series Black Mirror, Amazon revealed it has developed a way for its Alexa voice assistant to replicate the speech of a dead relative – based on less than a minute of recorded audio from the original person.

The e-commerce giant showcased the new technology Wednesday at its re:MARS conference, Amazon’s global artificial intelligence event for machine learning, automation, robotics and space. In a video demo shown at the event, a young boy says, “Alexa, can grandma finish reading The Wizard of Oz for me?” — followed by a synthesized grandmother’s voice playing through an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker.

“As you saw in this experience, it’s not Alexa’s voice reading the book, it’s the child’s grandma’s voice,” Rohit Prasad, Amazon Alexa AI’s senior vice president and chief scientist, told attendees.

Amazon has already developed speech synthesis technology that allows Alexa to imitate celebrity voices. including Shaquille O’Neal and Melissa McCarthy. But that previously required one person to record dozens of hours of audio. Amazon has now developed a way to replicate a high-quality voice with less than a minute of recorded speech, which the company’s engineers managed to do “by framing the problem as a speech conversion task and not a speech generation task,” says Prasad.

Presenting the demo, Prasad said that Alexa’s AI’s ability to emulate the speech of a deceased relative may represent a way to preserve the memory of a loved one who has passed away. “We are undoubtedly living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and sci-fi become reality,” he said.

Watch the Alexa demo in the video below:

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