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home : opinion : columnist August 16, 2022

7/12/2022 12:01:00 AM
Please Don't Make Alexa Sound Like The Dead

Tammy Wilson
Guest Columnist


I don’t own an Alexa personal assistant, but if I did, I surely wouldn’t want her to replicate the voice of a dead relative.

Amazon has unveiled a feature of the virtual assistant to mimic the voice of a specific person, based on a less than minute of provided recording.

I can see using a famous person’s voice or maybe a voice with a foreign accent. My iPhone’s Siri, for example, is programmed to sound like an Australian man who often mispronounces geographic locations. At least he’s not as annoying as the Garmin woman we used to have on a GPS device. As I remember, she talked with a lisp and sounded snippy.

A personalized Alexa, the developers say, is designed to build greater trust in the interactions users have with the electronic assistant by giving “her” more human attributes. The loss of so many in the COVID pandemic has created a market that longs for the voices of lost loved ones. At least that’s what Amazon officials claim.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to hear on a dark and stormy night – or any other time—is a dead family member answering trivia questions.

There’s something inherently creepy about an electronic listening device period, much less one that mimics the voice of long-gone Aunt Myrtle or your brother Larry.

Yes, I know that cellphones “listen,” but Alexa takes eavesdropping to a whole other level in my view. Call me a Luddite. We were late adopting technology. I’ll bet it was 1989 before my husband and I broke down and bought a microwave oven, never mind that everyone else on the planet had been munching bagged popcorn for years.

We never bought a mobile phone back in the day when it was a status symbol to have an aerial whipping around the trunk lid.

Blackberrys and Walkmans were skipped entirely.

A Fitbit? Blue Tooth? Smart watch? I’m doing fine without them.

And if Alexa ever moves in with me, she sure won’t be programmed to sound like a dead family member.

Before my parents and my in-laws passed away, my husband and I made cassette recordings of all four telling family stories. Talk about an ingenious idea! We preserved oral history in their own voices.

My husband was meticulous about transcribing the tapes of his parents. He went so far as to write a table of contents for each cassette.

It’s been more than 20 years since my parents passed, and I still haven’t sat down to do the same for the recordings of my own parents. I think the hurdle is hearing their voices again. I’m just not sure I’m ready for that, even now. Meanwhile, cassette technology has gone the way of the VCR.

I cannot fathom having an electronic-anything sound like Mom or Dad or my late husband. I still “hear” all three in my memory, which is as it should be.

---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book, Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World: Collected Columns, was published by Red Hawk Publications. Contact her at tamra@tamrawilson.com



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