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Amazon’s creepy future Alexa feature mimics voices, alive or passed

Are you ready to hand over a voice to Alexa?

It’s not just online shopping that Amazon dominates, but the land of smart speakers too. The Echo range of smart speakers boasts a slew of features that make your life easier. Need to pop the kettle on? Alexa’s got it. Out of toilet paper? Alexa already ordered it. But Amazon has showcased a creepy new feature that doesn’t do much in the way of convenience.

At the company’s re:MARS AI conference, Amazon took to the stage to unveil a future Alexa feature – mimicking voices. Alexa (if we can call her that when doing another voice) read out a storybook to a child in the voice of his passed away grandmother.

Amazon is going for the approach of using AI to help preserve memories, but we’re not quite sure this is the way to go. There’s something slightly ominous about Alexa posing as Grandma Doris to read out a story. Admirable or creepy, you decide.

How exactly does Alexa pick up the voice she mimics? By listening to it, of course! Amazon claims the feature can create a voiceprint with just one minute of audio. Using this voiceprint, some clever AI behind-the-scenes work can mimic the voice in context. Given the success of existing deepfakes, we’re confident Alexa will at least get the mimic right. Amazon actually helped with a documentary on Anthony Bourdain using an AI to clone his voice, so we’ve seen the company take a swing at this before.

While Amazon showed off this new Alexa feature on the big stage, there’s currently no word on if (or when) the feature will be making its way to our living rooms. There’s also no clarification on whether or not the feature would be used for all voice responses, or just specific functions.

Given Amazon’s slightly shaky history with privacy, we’re not too sure this feature will prove popular. But regardless, it’s impressive to see AI used in this way. Impressive in a “What the hell is this?” kind of way. Creepy, too.