TAX-DODGING RETAILER Amazon has announced an update to its voice assistant Alexa.
We've known for a while that the company has been using voice modelling to add a bit more emotion to the disembodied voice. The company took a certain amount of flack when it revealed it was keeping samples of interactions for just that reason.
Now Alexa is showing off the fruits of those labours, in the form of two new emotional responses from our digital pal. There's a happy/excited tone, ideal for when you've answered a quiz question correctly or your sports team has won. Then there's the sad/disappointed tone for when happiness just sounds wrong.
Like when she tells you how much you spent on Amazon on Black Friday.
Currently, the new forms of expression, which each have multiple levels of intensity, are only available to US-English users, but it's only a matter of time before there are regionalised versions. There's also a new "radio host" type voice for media announcements, joining the more formal "newsreader" tone, already available.
The emotions are available to developers of Alexa Skills, of course, and can be enabled by adding an extra bit of code before a relevant speech string.
The problem with all this is that it could backfire dramatically. The AI required for voice recognition and replication is still in its infancy. Alexa isn't going to get the intonations right every time. But now we know that it can offer emphasis, we might find ourselves more affronted when it gets it wrong. Because a by-product of creating politeness is creating rudeness. μ
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