Amazon wants to make the dead speak with Alexa

News hardware Amazon wants to make the dead speak with Alexa

Amazon is currently working on technology that should eventually allow voice assistant Alexa to imitate the human voice. Including when it comes to that of a deceased person. A false good idea ?

Amazon re:MARS 2022 is happening right now in Las Vegas. During this event, whose entrance ticket costs 1499 dollars, Amazon gives the floor to many technology experts to talk about what the future holds for us on the subject. Of course, engineers from the company are also on hand to present what Amazon is preparing for its own products and services.

It is with this in mind that Rohit Prasad, senior vice president in charge of the development of the voice assistant Alexa, took the stage. He gave an impressive demonstration, allowing artificial intelligence to imitate a human voice based on a selection of original audio clips. By having in his “possession” about a minute of recording, Alexa was thus able to speak for a long time with a voice very close to the one she had to imitate.

A disturbing scene

To illustrate the potential of this technology, Amazon has chosen to stage a very particular situation : that of the loss of a loved one. The voice synthesized by Alexa is that of a deceased grandmother. The voice assistant, after having analyzed and reproduced it, then uses this synthetic voice, close to that of the missing person, to read a story to his grandson and thus help him fall asleep.

The technical prowess is obvious: “it required finding solutions to learn how to reproduce a high quality voice with less than a minute of recording, compared to the hours usually required in the studio”, summarizes Rohit Prasad. For him, the objective has been achieved: “We are unquestionably living in the golden age of artificial intelligence, where our dreams and our science fiction are becoming reality. »

However, reviving a deceased through a synthetic voice can still present itself as a confusing, even disturbing possibility. We can wonder about the limits of such a process: can we make a dead man say anything? Doesn’t that risk preventing the living from mourning? For Amazon, “While AI can’t eliminate the pain of losing a loved one, it certainly can sustain the memory”. Everyone will have their own opinion on the subject.

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A powerful tool, which is not without risk

For now, Amazon has given no information regarding the potential rollout of this feature within its Echo devices.. It is possible that this will not happen for many years or that this technology will only be offered in a professional setting.

Purely ethical questions come to rub shoulders security and legal issues : how to prevent such a feature from being misused, for example for identity theft or for manipulate a person’s speech, like deep fakes? These are all issues that Amazon will have to confront if the company wishes to go further in this area: technological performance in itself is not enough when dealing with something as personal as the voice of a human.

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