Amazon Unveils Feature to Mimic Voice Sample

In many ways, technology can help older adults live with greater safety, independence, and social interaction.  Smart devices can provide valuable health data, make shopping easier, supply on-demand entertainment, and connect seniors with their loved ones virtually.  A new Amazon Alexa feature will also help recreate the voice of a deceased loved one using a short recording and artificial intelligence technology. 

According to a recent NPR report, Alexa – Amazon’s virtual assistant, will soon be able to learn the voice of a deceased loved one using a high-quality voice recording of a minute or less.  The technology could, for example, allow a book to be read aloud in the voice of a deceased spouse or grandparent. 

Not everyone is excited about the new feature, criticizing the tech as morbid, and potentially dangerous if used in a deceptive application.  The ethical debate surrounding AI, and its impact on society continues, but voice replication technology may offer comfort to those who have lost a close relative.  The news also reminds us that we can’t always believe what we see and hear online as technology improves and synthetic voices and images surround people.  Older adults with dementia, for example, could be more vulnerable to confusion, or even scams. 

Sampling the voice of the departed also presents the dilemma over consent.  Once a person is gone, can their image or voice be recreated using technology without their consent?  Amazon has yet to release a launch date for the new feature but Alexa has already become more personalized in recent years and is able to ask users questions to clarify instructions; by initiating “conversation mode” Alexa can also join ongoing conversations and automatically make adjustments to a food order, for example, based on users’ conversation. 

Not sure about how Alexa can store and use your data?  You can manage skill permissions for Alexa-enabled devices in your account’s privacy settings.  Learn more about Alexa Privacy and how to control your devices to customize your experience here