Listening to your deceased mother read “The Wizard of Oz” to your sons and daughters may soon become a reality thanks to Amazon’s Alexa.
During the multinational technology and e-commerce company’s annual MARS conference in Las Vegas, Alexa head scientist Rohit Prasad unveiled the virtual assistant technology’s latest feature. Instead of Alexa’s so-called normal voice reciting the words of your favorite novel, now her voice can transform into that of a loved one who recently passed away reading your favorite bedtime story.
“We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI,” Prasad said. “Where our dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality.”
Prasad paused for a moment while a video appeared of a young child in his bedroom talking to Alexa, who has a panda bear’s face.
“Alexa,” the boy said. “Can grandma finish reading me ‘The Wizard of Oz’?”
“OK,” Alexa responded.
Alexa immediately turns her voice into the boy’s grandmother’s and reads the excerpt where Oz reminds the Lion to have courage as long as he has confidence in himself.
Prasad tells the audience that through this feature, Alexa will enable “lasting personal relationships.”
The technology makes those relationships happen by producing a high-quality voice recording in less than a minute versus hours of recording in the studio.
He said the company made it happen by framing the problem as a voice conversion task rather than generating speech.
As the words “Human-like empathy” slowly zoomed in on a giant screen behind Prasad, he said “companionship relationship” surprised him the most about Alexa.
“In this companionship role, human attributes of empathy and affect are key for building trust,” he said. “These attributes have become even more important in these times of the ongoing pandemic when so many of us have lost someone we love.”
Amazon’s annual re:MARS conference, an acronym for “Machine learning, Automation, Robots, and Space,” showcases leaders and technologists who are bringing the future of artificial intelligence to the present day.
“While AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last,” Prasad said.