Paul Smith, AdTonos’ SVP of Sales, shares his thoughts on introducing Alexa’s most recent feature: a voice assistant that can imitate/reproduce a specific human voice.

Amazon has once again pushed the boundaries of technology – and of social and cultural norms. At the annual Re:Mars conference, held in Las Vegas, senior vice president and head scientist of the Alexa team Rohit Prasad introduced Alexa’s most recent feature: a voice assistant that can imitate/reproduce a specific human voice.

Amazon presented this as a way for people to alleviate feelings of bereavement and grief experienced during the pandemic. How? This technology can encapsulate and commemorate something of those who are no longer with us: “while AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last”.

According to Prasad, “human attributes” – such as “empathy and affect” – are necessary to build trust with consumers, noting the remarkable “companionship relationship” individuals have built with their device over the last two years.


In short?

Think: audio, but with dead people.

The reaction on social media so far has been varied, with people proclaiming both hope and distaste for the idea: “totally weird and creepy”, said one commenter, while a slightly less decided individual remarked “equal parts creepy and reassuring”, meanwhile, the pro-camp saw “much opportunity” in terms of commerce and grief industries, while another predicted that “bringing people ‘back from the dead’ in virtual environments” is not that far away – and only the next natural step in the evolution of the grieving process. 

With hashtags such as #BlackMirror circulating on one hand and #innovation on the other, it’s clear that the topic is a divisive one. Interestingly, this is not the first iteration of its kind – Microsoft’s ‘deadbot’ comes to mind – so we can identify a bit of a trend among tech giants.

Of course, initial reactions indicate fears around misuse and deepfake.

Audio with dead people ? Yes, you heard me right. Amazon are always pushing the boundaries in tech, but with the ability to imitate a passed love ones voice on your device ? Is this a bit too far or is this a opportunity to let the voice live on ? – asking Paul Smith, SVP of Sales at AdTonos

For brands, the use case of this technology remains unclear. If we take the concept to its extreme and consider how this technology can be used, the question arises whether the public will be receptive to commercial prompts from a deceased loved one. Whether a nefarious scammer or a commercial agent, the risk of using this tech in bad taste definitely looms.

It is easy to imagine that most advertising and marketing methods using this tool would come across as unsavoury – however this is not to say that highly sophisticated AI technology will not be useful when it comes to voice and sound activated uses and practices.

If we set aside the slightly more cynical view of what a truly sophisticated voice technology could achieve, then there is definitely space for agencies and businesses to get creative – they just need to do it sensitively.

It would even be hard to argue that the market is not already in the process of fully incorporating voice and sound into marketing strategies, and with good reason. We know that smart speakers are already in use and on the increase. We also know that voice activated, interactive ads are an easy, accessible, and handsfree way for consumers to engage with products or services they find interesting in real-time.

So in that sense, this progression is only the next step in technological development.

It is worth bearing in mind, as an industry, to be mindful of our actions in the presence of new and exciting technologies. It’s all good pushing boundaries, as long as we keep our goals and values in mind: are we being respectful? Will this achieve anything beyond piggybacking off a controversial fad? Does this help us to connect with our audiences in a meaningful way?