The latest iteration of Amazon's Alexa voice assistant could sound eerily familiar.
The company announced on Wednesday during its annual re:MARS conference, which focuses on artificial intelligence innovation, that it's working on an update to its Alexa system
that would allow the technology to mimic any voice, even a deceased family member.
In a video shown on stage, Amazon (AMZN) demonstrated how, instead of Alexa's signature voice reading a story to a young boy, it was his grandmother's voice
Rohit Prasad, an Amazon senior vice president, said the updated system will be able to collect enough voice data from less than a minute of audio to make personalization like this possible,
rather than having someone spend hours in a recording studio like how it's done in the past. Prasad did not elaborate on when this feature could launch. Amazon declined to comment on a timeline.
The concept stems from Amazon looking at new ways to add more "human attributes" to artificial intelligence, especially "in these times of the ongoing pandemic,
when so many of us have lost someone we love," Prasad said. "While AI can't eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last."
Amazon has long used recognizable voices, such as the real voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy and Shaquille O'Neal, to voice Alexa.
But AI recreations of people's voices have also increasingly improved over the past few years, particularly with the use of AI and deepfake technology.
For example, three lines in the Anthony Bourdain documentary "Roadrunner" were generated by AI, even though it sounded like they were said by the late media personality.
"We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later," director Morgan Neville told The New Yorker when the film debuted last year.
More recently, actor Val Kilmer, who lost his voice to throat cancer, partnered with startup Sonantic to create an AI-driven speaking voice for him in the new "Top Gun: Maverick" film.
The company used archival audio footage of Kilmer to teach an algorithm how to speak like the actor, according to Variety.