Amazon.com wants to give customers the chance to make Alexa, the company's voice assistant, sound just like their grandmother - or anyone else.
The online retailer is developing a system to let Alexa mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio, said Rohit Prasad, an Amazon senior vice president, at a conference the company held in Las Vegas.
The goal is to "make the memories last" after "so many of us have lost someone we love" during the pandemic, Prasad said.
"This required inventions where we had to learn to produce a high-quality voice with less than a minute of recording versus hours of recording the studio," he said.
"The way we made it happen is by framing the problem as a voice conversion task and not a speech generation path.
"We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI."
Amazon declined to share when it would roll out such a feature.
The work wades into an area of technology that has garnered close scrutiny for potential benefits and abuses.
For instance, Microsoft recently restricted which businesses could use its software to parrot voices. The goal is to help people with speech impairments or other problems but some worry it could also be used to propagate political deepfakes. read more
Amazon hopes the project will help Alexa become ubiquitous in shoppers' lives. Another Amazon executive said that Alexa had 100 million customers globally, in line with figures the company has provided for device sales since January 2019.
But public attention has already shifted elsewhere. At Alphabet's Google, an engineer made the highly contested claim that a company chatbot had advanced to sentience.
Prasad said Amazon's aim for Alexa is "generalisable intelligence," or the ability to adapt to user environments and learn new concepts with little external input.
He said that goal is "not to be confused with the all-knowing, all-capable, uber artificial general intelligence," or AGI, which Alphabet's DeepMind unit and Elon Musk-co-founded OpenAI are seeking.
Amazon shared its vision for companionship with Alexa at the conference, showing how a deceased relative's voice could live on.
In a video segment, it portrayed a child who asked, "Alexa, can grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?"
A moment later, Alexa affirmed the command and changed her voice. She spoke soothingly, less robotically, ostensibly sounding like the individual's grandmother in real life.
REUTERS / NEWSHUB