We ain’t afraid of no Alexa
I’m guessing that most of you saw the latest news concerning Alexa and Amazon’s plans to bring back the dead. That may not come as too much of a surprise for those people who hero worship Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to the point of deification but it probably did for the rest of us.
Before things get too mad, I should make it clear that we’re not talking literal resurrection of the dead here. Clearly not. But it is something that’s potentially quite disturbing and more than a little creepy.
It all arises from a demonstration given by Amazon’s senior vice president and head scientist, Rohit Prasad, at the company’s re:Mars conference. Despite a number of reports, however, the details remain somewhat sketchy. But all seem agreed that the gist of the announcement was Alexa would be able to channel dead people by speaking with their voices.
As reported in The Irish Times, Amazon promised the feature would give people the ability to “make the memories last”. The company is developing technology that will allow Alexa to mimic the voice of anyone it hears from less than a minute of audio.
The company demonstrated how it would work with a boy asking Alexa to read The Wizard of Oz in his grandmother’s voice.
You can only begin to imagine the possible applications for such technology. I can understand why someone might think there’s something positive in allowing grief-stricken bereaved people to use Alexa to keep the memories of their loved ones alive.
Actually, I lie, I can’t really. I mean, why would you want your deceased grandfather/mother/spouse telling you “Now playing WAP by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion on Spotify” or “I’m sorry, I cannot find the item you were looking for”.
And would it really be healthy, for instance, if someone programmed Alexa to speak with the voice of an ex-lover who had dumped them to try and wreak some kind of petty revenge? Worse still, what if somebody out there used the voice of Donald Trump or Adolf Hitler? Imagine being in that house.
It sort of reminds me of the young boy in The Sixth Sense who said “I see dead people” except I hope there aren’t too many of us who want to “hear dead people” with this ‘Non Sense’.
That said, I can see a possible use for this type of technology elsewhere in the Amazon empire. In the same week as the Alexa demonstration, the company announced it was deploying two new robots across its warehouses that are designed to shift packages autonomously around workers, with no need for a restricted operating area.
Proteus and Cardinal will assist with the sorting and movement of packages currently undertaken by humans in Amazon’s warehouses. As the story elsewhere on this website noted: “Amazon claims that it is not moving to replace workers, simply reducing their involvement in risky tasks.” Maybe so, but probably not.
Still, when Amazon finally does replace its workers with robots, perhaps it might consider enabling the robots to mimic the voices of the workers the machines have made obsolete. That would be kind of fitting, don’t you think?