Speed Reads

the dead speak!

Amazon working on technology allowing Alexa to speak in a dead relative's voice

The new season of Black Mirror has arrived sooner than expected thanks to Amazon.

The company has announced it's developing a feature for Alexa that would allow the virtual assistant to speak in the voice of a dead relative. The technology was shown off during a keynote presentation

A demonstration showed a child asking Alexa, "Can grandma finish reading me The Wizard of Oz?" Alexa then takes on the voice of the child's grandmother to read the book. 

"Instead of Alexa's voice reading the book, it's the kid's grandma's voice," Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for Alexa AI, said. "This required invention where we had to learn to produce a high-quality voice with less than a minute of recording versus hours of recording in the studio." 

Prasad didn't reveal further details about how this feature would work or when it could launch, though he added that while artificial intelligence "can't eliminate" the "pain of loss," it can "definitely make their memories last."

But the feature — which calls to mind the plot of an actual episode of the dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror — was seen by some as "incredibly creepy," as writer Julian Sanchez tweeted, arguing "absolutely nobody will do it." Cybersecurity expert Rachel Tobac also raised concerns to The Washington Post about criminals using voice samples "to impersonate other individuals," leading to "fraud, data loss, account takeover and more."