Amazon's Alexa Will Soon Be Able to Sound Like a Dead Relative

Amazon has plans to make their Alexa devices feel even more personal to users...but the feature is likely to be somewhat divisive. In a new tech demo, the retail giant has revealed that new Alexa devices will soon be able to replicate the voice and speech patterns of users and their loved ones, using only about a minute of audio from the original source of the voice. Wednesday at its re:MARS conference, Amazon's global artificial-intelligence event for machine learning, automation, robotics and space, Amazon played a short video for attendees, in which a child asked Alexa to have their grandmother read from The Wizard of Oz -- and the AI accommodated, playing a passage from the book in "grandma's" voice rather than Alexa's default.

Shaquille O'Neal, Melissa McCarthy, and others have previously recorded voice for Alexa, but in those instances, the celebrities were asked to sit down and record hours of audio. In this case, according to Amazon, they approached the challenge differently, "by framing the problem as a voice-conversion task, and not a speech-generation task," which makes it easier. Think of the way a comedian can say anything in their Jerry Seinfeld voice, once they've cracked the initial impression and feel comfortable "in" the voice.

While some will feel uneasy about this move, it's clear there is something of a market for this type of technology. Think of all the ads in your Instagram feed that purport to bring old photos "to life" so that users can see their long-lost loved ones move and make eye contact one last time.

You can see the video below, beginning at around the 1:02:00 mark.

"As you saw in this experience, instead of Alexa's voice reading the book, it's the kid's grandma's voice," said Rohit Prasad, Amazon's Alexa AI senior vice president and head scientist, who later added, "We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality."

Here's how Amazon described the re: Mars event:

Be inspired by Rohit Prasad, SVP and Head Scientist, Alexa AI, Amazon, Tye Brady, Chief Technologist, Amazon Robotics, Dilip Kumar, VP, Physical Retail and Technology, Amazon, will showcase Amazon's efforts to push the state-of-the-art forward in robotics, computer vision, sensor fusion, natural language processing, and more. They are joined by Ariel Ekblaw, Director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, Thomas Oxley, CEO of Synchron, Inc., and Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost.