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Alexa’s ‘dead’ voices: What’s Amazon’s latest feature to channel the deceased – and why are people comparing it to Netflix’s Black Mirror?


The introduction of a latest Alexa feature that permits it to talk using the voices of the dead has led to widespread shock and horror.

The tool has been compared with dystopian sci-fi and led to concerns in regards to the way that technology could possibly be used to mislead people in addition to break usual ethical concerns.

The feature allows Alexa smart speakers to simulate the voice of other people – particularly, Amazon said, those that have died – and permit the AI system to talk using it.

What’s the Alexa feature?

It is meant, almost literally, to channel the dead. It might take a brief snippet of recorded voice after which use that as Alexa’s voice, allowing the AI system to talk as someone who isn’t any longer alive.

In the instance utilized by Amazon on the demonstration, Alexa read a book to a toddler within the voice of their dead grandmother.

It noted that the feature could possibly be useful to assist people hold on to the memories of dead people, and suggested that such a tool could possibly be especially useful during a pandemic that has seen many individuals lose family and friends.

The feature is in a position to do all of that with only a one minute snippet of audio, Amazon said. That will presumably mean that the feature could possibly be used even for individuals who hadn’t specifically recorded their voice for the system before they died.

Is it out now?

No. The tool was demonstrated as a part of an idea by Amazon, though it does seem to truly be real and available to Amazon itself.

It gave no indication of when it’d arrive in everyone else’s Alexa devices. And after the widespread shocked response, it’d never arrive in any respect.

How widespread is that this technology?

While the Alexa feature is perhaps the primary time it has been rolled out in a public-facing, consumer device, technology that uses AI to recreate people’s voices has existed for a while.

It has gained public notice particularly when it has been utilized in movies. Recently, for example, such technology was utilized in an Anthony Bourdain documentary to recreate the late chef’s voice as he read letters, and to permit Val Kilmer to talk in Top Gun: Maverick as he did before his voice was affected by throat cancer.

Nevertheless it is utilized in less obvious, more each day ways, too. Audio editing software can use people’s voice to swap in words if an individual misspeaks, for example.

That usage – and the benefit with which it might be done – has led to concerns that it could possibly be easily used to create “audio deepfakes”, of individuals seemingly say things they never actually said. That worry has led to corporations including Microsoft limiting the access to such technology, within the hope of ensuring it was used responsibly.

Why are people comparing it to Black Mirror?

In addition to being the type of dystopian tech invention that might be shown on the show, the Alexa feature bears a fair closer resemblance to specific parts of the TV series. Within the episode ‘Be Right Back’, first aired in 2013, a personality is shown becoming friends with an android that’s built to repeat the behaviour of her dead partner.

Just as Alexa is in a position to create an individual’s voice out of only a minute of audio, the android is built out of text conversations and social media posts. In each cases, real and fictional, artificial intelligence is in a position to use a comparatively limited amount of information to construct an in depth – if incomplete – version of the person.

Response to the Black Mirror episode was mixed in the identical way because it has been to the Alexa feature. Critics noted that it was dystopian but in addition touching, perhaps in the identical way some might see the Alexa feature.

And the Black Mirror episode has already gone on to encourage real technology – a few years later, a technologist built a version of her dead friend, citing the episode as inspiration. As is perhaps expected, that proved controversial: some found the chatbot to be remarkably just like their lost friend, but others complained that its creator Eugenia Kuyda had missed the purpose of the episode.

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