Amazon Floats Idea Of Alexa Mimicking Voices Of Dead Relatives

Ashley Hunte
An Amazon Alexa device on a table.
Unsplash | Nicolas J Leclercq

We're living in a really strange time, where the stuff of science fiction movies is starting to become not only realistic, but attainable in our lifetime. New to the list is corporations being able to replicate the voice of a dead relative.

It sounds like the plot to a Black Mirror episode. In fact, it's literally the plot of a Black Mirror episode. And it also might soon become a reality.

Amazon just announced a new Alexa feature that mimics the voices of dead relatives.

An Amazon Alexa device in the dark, with a blue light glowing from the bottom of the device.
Unsplash | Reet Talreja

In a tech demonstration event, Amazon unveiled the technology with a video of a child asking, "Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me The Wizard of Oz?"

Alexa obliges, and then a different voice begins speaking.

A larger Amazon Alexa device on a white background.
Unsplash | Matthew Ball

It's the voice of the grandmother, which has been replicated using voice data. The segment ends with the senior vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa AI, Rohit Prasad, praising the technology.

This technology actually already exists.

An Amazon Alexa device where the ring around the top is glowing white.

Amazon has been able to replicate the voices of celebrities, which required them to spend hours in a sound studio. This newer technology, however, would be able to generate a synthetic voice with mere minutes of audio.

The intention is to help preserve the memories of a deceased loved one.

A floral memorial that reads, "In loving memory."
Unsplash | Sandy Millar

During the presentation, Prashad went on to say, "We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality."

However, many people are criticizing the technology.

A man shaking his head while saying "Not a good idea, buddy."
Giphy | Curb Your Enthusiasm

Not everyone is as excited about this technology as Amazon. Some are questioning privacy and safety, as the technology could be used to replicate a voice without that person's consent. Others find it might be a dangerous precedent.

Many liken this to 'Black Mirror,' the science fiction show that deals with technology like this.

It definitely feels like an instance of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Especially with the ethical concerns many have raised about the technology.

This comes after Microsoft announced stricter guidelines on their own synthetic voice services.

The Microsoft logo in blue.
Unsplash | Sunder Muthukumaran

Earlier this week, Microsoft, one of Amazon's biggest competitors, announced that they would be scaling back on synthetic voice offerings, all to "ensure the active participation of the speaker."

Microsoft is more concerned with how this technology could be misused.

Seth Meyers saying "Not good" while pointing.
Giphy | Late Night with Seth Meyers

Natasha Crampton, head of Microsoft's AI division, said, "This technology has exciting potential in education, accessibility, and entertainment, and yet it is also easy to imagine how it could be used to inappropriately impersonate speakers and deceive listeners."

All in all, it seems like a delicate balance.

A woman saying, "Well, that's going to be a problem."
Giphy | This Is Us

In fact, synthetic voice "deepfakes" are already prominent online. The technology exists everywhere, and this problem could get worse without any kind of regulations. This is one of the biggest reasons why many are critical of Amazon's announcement.

But by the same token, the technology really could have its benefits.

Nearly all of us have lost loved ones that we'd give anything to hear speak one more time. Prashad said during the presentation, "While AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last."

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!