Amazon's Creepy New Alexa Tech Impersonates Deceased Loved Ones

Amazon just unveiled a highly controversial feature developed for its virtual assistant, Alexa. Using artificial intelligence, the experimental feature is able to mimic the voice of the users' deceased loved ones. While there is no telling if and when the new tech will make it to Amazon's devices, such as the Echo, one thing is certain — the feature may appear unsettling, and rightfully so. It also prompts questions such as "where does it stop" and "how much is too much." On the other hand, for those in favor of it, this feature could prove to be a beautiful gift.

The company showed off the feature at its annual MARS conference. Rohit Prasad, SVP and Head Scientist at Amazon, said in the presentation that this era of A.I. is meant to inspire emotion. In a video, posted in full on YouTube, Amazon debuted a short demo of the new tech, and it's hard to deny that it does tug on your heartstrings. Out of the Echo device on a bedside table — came the voice of a child's deceased grandma. 

A beautiful memory or a scene straight out of Black Mirror?

Prasad went on to detail the innovative show of A.I. powers, and although the presentation was short, the most important bit of information found its way into it: You only need one minute of recorded audio in order to make Alexa sound like any voice you might want. While Amazon went with the example of using the voice of someone's deceased loved one, you could potentially mimic just about any voice as long as you had enough footage for the A.I. to use for that purpose. This could include celebrity voices, similar to this Morgan Freeman voice changer that Voicemod recently released. 

Prasad explained that the way Amazon's engineers were able to achieve this is that they tackled the problem as a voice conversion task rather than a speech generation task. That too brings Voicemod to mind, as the way the software was able to achieve this was through real-time A.I. voice conversion. Voice conversion, in itself, is not that new — it's been used in podcasts and film for various purposes. However, Amazon's take on it is what makes it controversial to some.

Is this another case of a wonder of technology, or is this a place where engineers and scientists should draw the line between tech and reality? The comments on the video seem split on the matter, with some people calling the feature downright creepy, while others said it could help with grief. Many people who have suffered a tragic loss would likely give their everything for the chance to hear the voice of a loved one one last time. Whether it's morally acceptable for any company to capitalize on that is for each person to decide on their own.