Do you remember the episode ‘Be Right Back’ from the second season of Black Mirror? It stars Domhnall Gleeson as ‘Ash’ and Hayley Atwell as ‘Martha’. They are a couple until tragedy strikes and Ash dies in a car accident. Overcome with grief, Martha decides to use an AI service that uses all of Ash’s previous online communications and social media profiles to become an audible chatbot that extremely convincingly mimics Ash in real life to the point of that Martha feels that he is conversing with her. old boyfriend
It’s Black Mirror, so things aren’t rosy for long, of course. While it’s a sci-fi show, in real life Amazon is now proposing something that sounds similar to the AI service in the TV episode. At Amazon’s recent Re:Mars conference, Senior Vice President Rohit Prasad introduced a new voice assistant feature (via Engadget).
The new capability will be able to mimic voices, but Amazon specifically sold the Alexa feature as a way to keep the voices of deceased family members alive. In one demo, a video was played showing Alexa reading to a child in the voice of her recently deceased grandmother. Prasad emphasized that Amazon was trying to make AI more personal.
“While AI can’t take away the pain of loss, it can definitely make memories last,” he said. An Amazon spokesperson told Engadget that the AI can create a voiceprint of the person after receiving training on the person’s audio that lasts just one minute.
However, voice replication, or so-called deep fake audio, has security experts concerned. One major scam involving voice-spoofing software was a 2020 incident in the United Arab Emirates where a bank manager was tricked into transferring $35 million because he heard the voice of a company director who was, in fact, completely artificial. These scams are, for now, quite rare and the general software available is not at the same level as the function proposed by Amazon.
It will be some time yet before we hear an artificial voice as fluid as the one depicted in the Black Mirror episode, and certainly long before we see the android that voice finally embodies in ‘Be Right Back’.
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