In the “Oh, that’s not creepy at all” arena, Amazon is trying to give Alexa the capability to mimic anybody’s voice. The online retailer is developing a system for its voice assistant that would allow Alexa to sound like a customer’s favorite grandmother or anyone else.
A Gray Area Whether We Should or Shouldn’t Let Alexa Mimic Voices
This is a segment of technology that’s already under a ton of scrutiny, and for good reason. Several years ago, an energy company CEO thought he was talking to his boss over the phone. It was actually AI software being used to defraud the company.
Microsoft has similar technology, allowing its software to parrot other people’s voices. That company has chosen to restrict which businesses can use the capability.
The goal of this type of tech is to help people with speech impairments or other problems. However, it’s highly open to abuse. Some fear it could be used to propagate political deepfakes. It would allow putting words into rival politicians’ names that were never there in the first place.
A More Innocuous Purpose That’s Still Creepy
In Amazon’s case, the company has other uses in mind (via Reuters). When demonstrating the not-yet-released feature, Amazon portrayed a child asking Alexa, “Can grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?” The Echo confirmed the command and then changed its voice to one more soothing and less robotic.
Amazon unveiled the capability during a conference in Las Vegas. Rohit Prasad, an Amazon senior vice president, said the system will let Alexa mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio. Prasad said the goal of the feature is to “make the memories last” after “so many of us have lost someone we love” during the pandemic.
I’m sure some might find it comforting to hear a loved one’s voice again, but I wouldn’t be the one to have Alexa taking on such mimicry. I can also see far too many opportunities to abuse the capability. Technology can already deceive the general public too easily. Adding the ability to mimic others’ voices is a step too far down that path, in my opinion.