Virtual assistant

A popular virtual assistant could imitate the voices of deceased relatives

Amazon’s Alexa could soon reproduce the voices of family members, even if they are dead.

The capability, unveiled at Amazon’s Re:Mars conference in Las Vegas, is being developed and would allow the virtual assistant to mimic a specific person’s voice in less than a minute of recording.

Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and chief scientist of Alexa, said the desire behind the feature was to build trust in user interactions with Alexa by putting more “human attributes of empathy and affect “.

“These attributes have become even more important during the ongoing pandemic as so many of us have lost those we love,” Mr. Prasad said. “While AI can’t take away that pain of loss, it can certainly make their memories last.”

In a video released by Amazon at the event, a young child asks “Alexa, can Grandma finish reading The Wizard of Oz to me?”

Alexa then recognizes the request and switches to another voice imitating the child’s grandmother. The voice assistant then continues to read the book with that same voice.

To create the feature, Prasad said the company needed to learn how to create “high quality voice” with a shorter recording time, as opposed to hours of studio recording.

The rollout is likely to raise more privacy concerns and ethical questions around consent.