“Make the memories last.” With these chilling words, Amazon has announced the new frontier of loved one preservation technology, with head scientist Rohit Prasad saying on June 22nd that Alexa is now capable of mimicking the voices of the dead and enslaving them as your digital assistant.
“The way we made it happen is by framing the problem as a voice conversion task and not a speech generation path,” Prasad explained to the audience (via The Guardian). He added that the technology has existed for several years now, and the voice capture can be done with less than a minute of recorded audio.
Amazon debuted these frightening powers in their presentation yesterday. A young boy asked, “Can grandma finish reading me The Wizard of Oz?” and while his grandmother is dead, the Alexamancer spoke in her voice.
Prasad saw broad applications for the technology, especially in an ongoing pandemic, when “so many of us have lost someone we love.” He hopes these trapped souls will someday display “generalizable intelligence,” which he contrasted with the stuff we see in science fiction, the “all-knowing, all-capable, uber-artificial general intelligence.”
Not everyone would see even “generalizable intelligence” as unproblematic. Hours before Amazon’s presentation, Microsoft published new AI ethics rules. “It is … easy to imagine how it could be used to inappropriately impersonate speakers and deceive listeners,” said Natasha Crampton, the company’s AI chief.
Once Amazon’s technology becomes public, it probably won’t be long before someone tries, “Alexa, have my ex-wife call our bank,” let alone grosser applications that we’ll leave to your imagination. For now, there’s no timeline to roll out this feature, so those who are grieving or evil will have to wait. If Alexa isn’t currently creepy enough for your tastes, just remember that time they started eerily laughing at their owners for no reason.