'Hey Alexa, Can Grandma Finish My Bedtime Story?': Amazon Unveils Wildly Strange Feature

Zinger Key Points
  • Amazon's Rohit Prasad warned the crowd: “While AI cannot eliminate the pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”
  • Speech synthesis has been around for a while.

Amazon.com, Inc. AMZN is nearly finished with its four-day Re: MARS conference in Las Vegas, which aims to deliver thoughts from recognized leaders and technical experts in Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space (MARS) fields.

Every year, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos hosts the RE: MARS conference, a small, invite-only gathering that embraces an optimistic vision for scientific advancement to spur a golden age of creativity.

Though optimistic may not be the best word to describe what was unveiled on Wednesday; we’ll let you decide what word to use.

What happened: Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist at Amazon’s Alexa AI division, took to the stage to unveil a new capability for Alexa that we’re not sure will be available to the public.

Before demonstrating the feature, he warned the crowd: “While AI cannot eliminate the pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”

The new capability? An experimental feature that allows Alexa’s AI to mimic the voice of a user’s dead relative.

In the video, a young boy can be heard saying, “Alexa, can grandma finish reading 'The Wizard of Oz'?”

Alexa responds, “okay,” quickly followed by the dead grandmother's voice reading the story to the boy.

Why It Matters: Speech synthesis has been around for a while, despite the confusion caused by Amazon's packaging of this technology.

It was revealed in 2018 that a documentary about the life of TV personality and Chef Anthony Bourdain — who passed away in 2018 — used artificial intelligence to clone his voice and read passages from emails he sent.

According to The Verge, people on social media label the feature "creepy" and a "monstrosity,” which suggests that users are not comfortable with it.

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Posted In: EntertainmentNewsTechGeneralAIAlexaJeff BezosRE: MARS
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