Amazon Alexa imitates the voice of a deceased relative

Amazon is creating a way for users to talk to their family members through the Alexa voice assistant, even after they pass away.

At Amazon’s Re: Mars conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and chief scientist on the Alexa team, detailed a feature that allows the voice assistant to repeat a specific human voice.

In a demonstration video, a child said, “Alexa, can my grandmother finish reading The Wizard of Oz?”

Alexa confirmed the request with a virtual robotic voice, then instantly switched to a softer, human-like tone that seemed to mimic the child’s family members.

Prasad said the Alexa team has developed a model that allows the voice assistant to produce high-quality audio with “less than a minute of audio recording.”

Prasad said the feature is currently under development. Amazon declined to say when the feature will be released to the public.

While the feature could ostensibly be used to replicate any sound, Prasad suggested it could help memorialize a deceased family member.

Making AI conversational and companion-like has become a major focus, Prasad said, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when “many of us lost someone we love.”

“While AI cannot eliminate this pain of loss, it can certainly make memories last,” he added.

Amazon wants to make talking with Alexa more natural in general, and has rolled out a series of features that enable its voice assistant to repeat more human-like dialogue, and even ask the user questions.

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