Alexa to impersonate celebrities
Samuel L. Jackson will be first star to lend voice to Amazon’s new artificial intelligence feature
Amazon has announced that its Echo virtual assistant Alexa will soon be able to speak in the voices of A-list celebrities - with sweary Pulp Fiction star Samuel L. Jackson leading the starry cast.
The new feature is among a variety of new Alexa features unveiled at the US tech giant’s annual hardware event in Seattle, Washington, on Wednesday.
Amazon, which also “debuted several new Echo devices”, says users will have the option to pay $0.99 (80p) to choose a celebrity voice to tell them the weather, respond to questions, and more, the Daily Beast reports.
Jackson is “not the first celebrity to feature on Alexa”, but previous celebrity voice features have relied on pre-recorded audio, as The Guardian notes. By contrast, the new system will use artificial intelligence (AI) to mimic stars’ voices.
The move is part of an attempt to improve Alexa’s natural speech patterns by using neural text-to-speech software that relies on deep learning techniques to make the device sound more like a human. According to The Verge, this is the same approach that Apple took with Siri’s new voice earlier this year on iOS 13.
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Science aside, Amazon’s first choice of celebrity is expected to prove popular. “Jackson’s delivery of expletive-laden one-liners in films such as Pulp Fiction, Shaft, A Time To Kill, Die Hard With A Vengeance, the Star Wars prequels and The Avengers have entered cultural canon,” The Guardian says.
For Echo users of a sensitive nature, Amazon will reportedly offer a family-friendly version as well as a more explicit rendering of Jackson’s speech.
Other newly announced updates include a multilingual mode, which will enable users to make requests in multiple languages. This is expected to be particularly useful in the US, where Spanish speakers comprise a large section of the general public.
Amazon is also adding a “frustration detection” feature to help Alexa understand and apologise when she has incorrectly completed a request.
And in the wake of a series of rows over user privacy, the firm is introducing a new setting with the option to auto-delete voice recordings after a set period of time ranging from three to 18 months.