Upcoming Amazon Alexa Feature Can Mimic Voices of the Dead

The new tech could also copy your voice.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
David Lumb
2 min read
A spherical Amazon Echo speaker on a kitchen counter

Amazon Alexa might use the voice of friends and family who are no longer alive in a future update. Amazon mentioned the features at its re:MARS conference Wednesday as a way to "make memories last." 

After listening to someone's voice for less than a minute, Alexa would be able to simulate that voice when speaking. A video of the feature depicted a child who asked to have their grandmother read them a story, and Alexa affirmed before changing her voice, according to Sky News.

It's not clear how far the feature is in development or when it could be rolled out to Alexa voice assistants. The re:MARS (for machine learning, automation, robots and space) event spotlights what Amazon is doing in ambient computing, including advancements in Alexa, so we may not see this feature anytime soon.

There are also potential security concerns with the ability to re-create a voice pattern exactly, though we'll hold our judgment until we know how much Alexa can mimic a voice after hearing it for such a short period of time. We'll also see how the feature is received -- while it seems to require users to opt in to use, there's an ethical question about the rights of the deceased's voice and how long it's able to be kept, either on devices or company servers. 

The voice-mimicking feature isn't explicitly meant for deceased family members, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed to CNET. It's based on recent advancements in text-to-speech tech, explained in an Amazon white paper from this year, where the team has produced high-quality voice with far less data, applying a voice filter instead of spending hours recording voice in a professional studio. 

Read more: The 50 Best Alexa Skills That Help Make Your Life Much Easier