Voice assistant programs have become increasingly popular in recent years with the rise of technologies such as Amazon-Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. These programs can perform a wide variety of tasks ranging from reminders and shopping lists to even playing board games, all controlled with a hands-free, voice-activated prompt.
With most smartphones already pre-installed with Google Assistant or Siri for Apple devices, the software’s prominence has led to a ton of advancements and new features with each iteration. Now the new function Alexa has some fans a little scared.
During the annual MARS conference in amazon, held over the past week, the internet giant revealed a variety of new technologies centered around robotics and artificial intelligence. Among the group of scientific stars were the director of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, Ariel Ekblaw, and the well-known MythBusters character, Adam Savage.
However, the most striking presentation of the conference was that of Rohit Prasad, chief scientist of Alexa AI. During a segment that talked about Alexa from amazon and the future features of the system, Prasad released a technology that would allow Alexa to imitate other voices.
The presentation of amazon debuted the experimental “Personal Voice Filter” as a way in which the speech of Alexa imitate another person after listening to one minute of their recorded voice. The example shown during the presentation demonstrates that the program is used to imitate the voice of a child’s deceased grandmother, promoting the concept of “human-like empathy.”
Prasad went on to say that the new technology can “make memories live on” for users who have lost a family member, suggesting their legacy can live on through voice imitation software. Alexa.
This revelation has drawn significant criticism from conference attendees, with many questioning the ethical nature of the software. While amazon featured the software as a way to preserve the memory of a lost family member, some compared it to the second-season premiere of the sci-fi series Black Mirror.
The presentation had also previously shown off a new Alexa feature called “Alexa Conversations,” which allows Alexa to follow multiple prompts at the same time.
Although many were taken aback by voice imitation, Amazon’s new foray into artificial intelligence wouldn’t be the first of its kind. A patent filed early last year by Microsoft floated the idea of a chatbot based on mimicking the style of a real person by using message logs and social media posts.