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Amazon Alexa will be able to mimic deceased loved ones’ voices

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By Judith Gicobi

The latest edition of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant could seem disturbingly similar.

The business revealed that it is developing an update to its Alexa system that would enable the technology to mimic any voice, including that of a departed family member, on Wednesday during its annual re:MARS conference, which focuses on artificial intelligence research.

In a video played on stage, Amazon (AMZN) showed how the grandma of a young child was reading a story to him instead of Alexa’s trademark voice.

The improved technology, according to Rohit Prasad, a senior vice president at Amazon, will be able to gather enough speech data from less than a minute of audio to enable personalisation like this, as opposed to requiring someone to spend hours in a recording studio as is currently done.

When this feature might go live was not specified by Prasad. Regarding a timeline, Amazon declined to respond.

Amazon came up with the idea after considering fresh approaches to give artificial intelligence (AI) more “human attributes” particularly “in these times of the ongoing pandemic, when so many of us have lost someone we love,” Prasad said. “While AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”

Amazon has long employed well-known voices to voice Alexa, including the actual voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy, and Shaquille O’Neal. But over the past few years, AI speech recreations have also gotten better and better, especially with the aid of  AI and deepfake technology.

Actor Val Kilmer recently collaborated with startup Sonantic to develop an AI-driven speaking voice for him in the newest “Top Gun: Maverick” movie after losing his voice due to throat cancer. The company trained an algorithm to mimic Kilmer’s speech using archived audio recordings of the actor.

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