Alexa will soon be able to hit you with a bit of nostalgia and speak to you in a loved one's voice. New updates to the AI device, which essentially serves as a virtual assistant, were revealed at Amazon's annual "re: Mars" conference on Wednesday. The company says Alexa's new capability will "enable lasting personal relationships."
For example, if someone asks Alexa to read a story in their grandmother's voice, she can. Using a short recording of someone's voice, Alexa can learn to mimic it, Senior Vice President and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon Rohit Prasad said.
In a video played at the event, a young boy asks Alexa to have his grandmother finish reading him the "Wizard of Oz."
The ability for Alexa to be a companion and have human-like empathy is especially useful after many people lost loved ones during the pandemic, Prasad said. "While AI can't eliminate the pain of loss, it can make those relationships last."
To create this feature, Amazon "had to learn to produce a high-quality voice with less than a minute of recording versus hours of recording in the studio," Prasad said. "The way we made it happen is by framing the problem as a voice conversion task and not a speech generation path."
In 2019, Amazon announced Alexa had the ability to adopt the voices of public figures – such as Samuel L. Jackson's– with their consent, by utilizing recordings the stars offer up as the baseline for additional computer-generated phrases.
Another new update announced at the event is "conversation mode," which means you don't have to say "Hey, Alexa" to continue conversing with the device. You simply say it once, and you can continue to ask Alexa questions or make requests.
Alexa, Prasad said, also has human-like reasoning – the ability to use short-term context available in the moment, and long-term memory accumulated over years of experience. For example, if you ask her to remind you about the Super Bowl, she will not only look up the date and time, but make sure it is in your time zone, then she will set a reminder for 10 minutes before the game.
Another example: Alexa has hunches about your routine, and will notice if you ask to turn on and off lights at the same time every day.
She essentially thinks before she speaks. If someone tells Alexa they wan't to buy flowers for their wife, she will infer a romantic relationship and suggest buying red roses, Prasad said.
"We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and science fictions are becoming a reality," Prasad said.
In 2019, Amazon announced Alexa had the ability to adopt the voices of public figures – such as Samuel L. Jackson's– with their consent, by using recordings the stars offer up as the baseline for additional computer-generated phrases.