Hey Alexa, can you not?
Amazon’s smart speaker, Alexa, is on track to developing the ability to mimic the voice of your dead loved ones.
The company, which started off by selling books online, is now invested in becoming the creepiest tech company ever.
Though the aim of the feature is to ease the pain of losing a loved one.
In a demo during Amazon’s re:Mars conference, a child is seen asking Alexa, “can my grandmother finish reading me Wizard of Oz”. This is followed by an “Okay” in Alexa’s typical voice, and then the book reading starts in his late grandmother’s voice.
Amazon said that “while AI cannot eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last”.
However, many feel uneasy about this feature, suggesting that it will backfire instead and make it harder for people to grieve, leading them to live in a delusional state.
The voice assistant needs a voice recording in the person’s voice, which can be shorter than one minute. It then learns to reproduce that voice itself. This process is known as deep-faking, which has been common in AI-generated video clips for a few years.
Deepfake videos are heavily scrutinised as they can be used to generate fake videos with other people’s faces in them. It’s likely that deepfake audios will be similarly criticised.
Just hours before Amazon’s announcement, Microsoft released a set of ethical AI rules. It includes strict regulations on deepfake audio, as it’s “easy to imagine how it could be used to inappropriately impersonate speakers and deceive listeners”.
This isn’t the first AI project aimed at extending attributes of people’s existence past their death. There have been projects created as early as 2018 where people created AI chatbots that can respond similarly to how the passed person used to speak.
While photos, old conversations, and souvenirs serve as reminders of someone that’s passed away, they don’t attempt to “revive” the person. AI is, however, now being used as a tool to mimic the life of someone that’s passed.
It’s no doubt that losing a loved one is among the most painful experiences a human can endure. As technology makes us more connected, and we know more people, we’re more likely to experience this pain now than others did in the past.
Despite all of humanity’s technological advancements, we remain incapable of truly easing this suffering. We might come up with something in the future, but we also may never be able to. Attempts at mimicking the existence of dead people may feel like remedies that ease the pain, but if anything, they’re likely to prolong it.
It’s not just the death of loved ones that we’re incapable of handling. Research by YouGov found that almost half of British people are afraid of death, and similar results can be observed throughout the world. Jeff Bezos, the cofounder of Amazon, and maker of Alexa, is himself working on a “cure for mortality”.
If you’re suffering the loss of a loved one, you can get in touch with a grief counsellor in Qatar.