Amazon senior vice president, Rohit Prassad, said Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant will be able to mimic the voices of deceased loved ones any moment from now. Prassad said in Las Vegas on Wednesday that people will be able to hear the voices of their loved ones and connect with their fond memories – even though the technology cannot wipe away the grief of mourning.
“These attributes have become even more important during the ongoing pandemic when so many of us have lost ones that we love,” Prasad said. “While Al can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”
In a video demonstration, a young boy asked Alexa to sing a song in his grandma’s voice and style, and the product did it perfectly to the admiration of people at the event. Prassad said the AI technology can capture people’s voices in less than one minute, and then create an exact match for their voice and manner of speaking. He said gone were the days when Amazon had to have someone recording their voice in the studio for hours on end before developing personalized voices.
He did not provide a timeline for when the new Alexa voice technology will become a reality.
But the announcement has elicited mixed reactions from Amazon customers and industry experts. A senior analyst at IDC Research, Adam Wright, said the future of the technology will determine whether people love it or find it disturbing. He noted that Amazon is developing the smart home experience just to demonstrate that it has the capacity and technology to achieve it.
An executive with ABI Research, Michael Inouye, said the latest Alexa innovation comes with some risks – especially if the output voice and interaction do not match the exact memory of a loved one.
“For some, they will view this as creepy or outright terrible, but for others, it could be viewed in a more profound way such as the example given by allowing a child to hear their grandparent’s voice, perhaps for the first time and in a way that isn’t a strict recording from the past,” Inouye said.
An expert on grief in Los Angeles, David Kessler, said people mourning will react differently to the product. Some will find it brilliant and innovative, but others will find it creepy and outright unpleasant.
“Some may find it comforting,” Kessler said. “Others may find it disturbing. I think it has the potential for complicating the grieving process for some. Whether Alexa will be a good embodiment of that, we don’t know that [yet].”