Amazon Reveals Alexa Could Soon Imitate Voices of People's Dead Loved Ones

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alexa device
alexa device

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Amazon is experimenting with a new feature that will allow its Alexa voice assistant to mimic the voice of other people — including the voices of people who have died.

Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa Artificial Intelligence, spoke about the relationship between consumers and their virtual assistants during Amazon's MARS conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

"One thing that surprised me the most about Alexa is the companionship relationship we have with it," Prasad explained. "In this companionship role, human attributes of empathy and affect are key to building trust."

"These attributes have become even more important during these times of the ongoing [COVID-19] pandemic when so many of us have lost somebody we love," he added.

Prasad then showed a video of a boy asking Alexa to read a bedtime story using his grandmother's voice. In the example, Alexa registered the request and switched to the grandmother's voice before reading the story. (The demonstration can be viewed here.)

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"As you saw in this experience, instead of Alexa's voice reading the book, it's the kid's grandma's voice," Prasad said.

"While A.I. can't eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last," he continued.

Prasad said the team found a way to get Alexa to simulate another person's voice using less than a minute of a voice recording.

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"We're unquestionably living in the golden era of A.I., where dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality," he explained.

When reached for comment about the technology, an Amazon representative told PEOPLE, "this is something we're exploring based on recent advancements in Text-to-Speech technology, where we've learned to produce a high-quality voice with far less data versus hours of recording in a professional studio."

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Naturally, such technology can cause concern. Natasha Crampton, the head of Microsoft's A.I. ethics division, recently wrote a blog post about the company's synthetic voice technology and why they chose to limit its accessibility.

"This technology has exciting potential in education, accessibility, and entertainment," Crampton wrote, "and yet it is also easy to imagine how it could be used to inappropriately impersonate speakers and deceive listeners."