The American technology company Amazon is going to launch a new – very special – function for its virtual assistant Alexa. The new feature will enable Alexa to read any text in the voice of a deceased loved one, based on just a short voice recording of that person. In this way, children will soon be able to listen to a story read by a deceased grandparent, for example.
“While artificial intelligence (AI) cannot take away the pain of loss, it can keep memories alive,” Amazon senior vice president Rohit Prasad said at a conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. “Instead of the voice of Alexa reading a book, the voice of a grandmother, for example, resounds. We learned how to produce a good quality voice from a recording of less than a minute,” it said.
“We are undoubtedly living in the golden age of AI, where our dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality,” added Prasad. When will the new feature appear? The Amazon chairman has not yet announced.
Not everyone responded positively on Twitter. For example, some called the new feature “creepy” and “morbid”. Technology experts are also increasingly asking questions about the use of AI and deepfakes, i.e. false artificial images of people, in everyday life.
Subbarao Kambhampati, a computer science professor at the University of Arizona, hopes Amazon’s new feature will make people vigilant about using fabricated voices. “As scary as it may sound, it’s a good reminder that we can’t trust our own ears these days. The sooner we get used to the concept – which is still very foreign to us – the better it will be,” explains Kambhampati.
According to the scientist, the function could possibly support the next of kin in their grieving process, but this is at odds with a series of moral questions about the technology. “It could help grieving people, for example, in the same way, that people watch videos of the dead,” he said. “But it also raises serious ethical questions, such as, ‘Is it okay to do this without the consent of the deceased?’” Kambhampati said.