Hey Amazon! Stop Putting Dead Relatives into Digital Devices
Dead relative talking digitally? Is Amazon crossing the limits with Alexa to be a tech leader?
Our life is being embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) in any which way we can imagine. Now Amazon comes up with a new top-up in making further progress in this regard. Alexa has been a prized product of Amazon and has helped the company to be the dominant player in the global market of digital voice assistant technology (DVAT) through the innovation of Echo Dot smart speakers. As a key DVAT strategy, Amazon has used the voice of leading celebrities from around the world. In India’s case, it has used the voices of the movie megastar Amitabh Bachchan and the leading sports commentator, Harsh Bhogle. But now DVAT has gone for a more innovative act: using the voice of the dead for the living relatives. The claim is that the basis of high-quality recorded speech with the duration of one minute Alexa can do wonders of this kind. Innovation is always welcome but this one-shot seems to go beyond the moral and ethical boundaries to make a big push for commercial success with digital devices.
Amazon, of course, has a point in its defence in introducing this new dimension to the personal voice filter. It is something like this: while the dead person cannot be brought back alive into digital devices like Alexa (and we all know that it is not an earth-shatteringly new observation) an effort is at least being made to console the grieving relatives with the mimicry of the voice of the departed soul. To prove their ‘humanitarian concern’ Amazon in its global conference on artificial intelligence and ML, MARS, held in Las Vegas on 21-24 June, 2022, ‘consoled’ a child, displayed through a ‘successful’ promotional video demo, by the voice of the child’s dead grandmother reading out The Wizard of Oz. Apparently, it may be seen as a great effort to engrave “sweet memories” of the dear one but beyond the apparent lies, some deeper issues of wider concerns through artificial intelligence and digital voice assistant technology!
One major issue is the commercial exploitation of the emotion of the grieving relatives of the dead. Amazon is certainly not going for such a venture on a no-profit no-loss basis, and certainly not with the prime purpose of sympathizing or empathizing with digital voice assistant technology. Also, it completely bypasses the fact that many relatives and acquaintances may not necessarily find it emotionally comforting to hear the synthesized voice of the dead. In other words, no one yet has been able to show any evidence that everyone bursts into happiness and does not drown in sadness in such cases. It may increase the “pain of loss” which Amazon claims to be reduced through this digital voice assistant technology. One does not even know what kind of psychological impact it may have on children in particular. In fact, for many, there are many other ways of retaining fond memories than asking Alexa to mimic a deceased person. One would do well to remember that recently Microsoft has announced that with the possibility of misusing synthetic voice technology through inappropriate impersonation of speakers, it has adopted a cautious approach regarding its use.
One can go for an experiment by asking digital devices like Alexa itself if it really makes sense to bring back the voice of the dead? Predictably, Alexa would support the act but that does not provide substantive answers to the issue raised above. However, the only consolation as of now is that Amazon has not laid out any plan to make the weird artificial intelligence innovation available immediately.