In the latest episode of Black Mirror, a vast megacorp sells AI software that learns to mimic the voice of a deceased woman whose husband sits weeping over a smart speaker, listening to her dulcet tones.
Only joking – it's Amazon, and this is real life. The experimental feature of the company's virtual assistant, Alexa, was announced at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Rohit Prasad, head scientist for Alexa AI, described the tech as a means to build trust between human and machine, enabling Alexa to "make the memories last" when "so many of us have lost someone we love" during the pandemic.
In an explanatory video, Amazon showed a child asking: "Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me The Wizard of Oz?" at which point the assistant's normally artificial voice shifted gears into a softer, more natural timbre. The point being that it's supposed to convincingly sound like the kid's grandma.
Though there was scant detail as to when or even if the technology would become publicly available, Prasad said Amazon was able to train the system to mimic a voice based on about a minute of recorded dialog, meaning users could potentially do this themselves at home.