Alexa Is Getting Emotional


A few weeks ago, Amazon announced new developer tools to enable Alexa to speak with emotion, either excited or disappointed across a range of intensities. Amazon said, “Use new Alexa Emotions and speaking styles to create a more natural and intuitive voice experience.”

The technology is great. Alexa emotions use Amazon’s Neural TSS (NTTS) text-to-speech tools, which make Alexa sound subjectively better. Amazon said, “Early customer feedback indicates that overall satisfaction with the voice experience increased by 30% when Alexa responded with emotions.”

I’m not sure this is a good idea. Alexa is not a person; it is an application that uses automatic speech recognition to recognize what word you’re saying and natural language understanding models to interpret what has been said. After your request is analyzed, Alexa does its best to respond with the appropriate information or action. Alexa is not a person; it is not male or female or any other type of human. It is a machine.

It may be fun to anthropomorphize Alexa Voice Services, but it’s a bad idea. We need audio cues to know that we are speaking with a machine. If the voice is too human (and this capability is fully within reach), we will not know whether or not we are speaking with a person. Eerily enough, we may not need to know.

Alexa emotions are fun to play with, but I would advise caution. Remember, every time C-3P0 introduces itself, it says, “I am C-3PO Human/Cyborg relations. I am fluent in six million forms of communication.” George Lucas was prescient (and brilliant), because if C-3PO didn’t introduce itself that way, you would not have known it wasn’t a gold-suited stormtrooper. Is it time for Alexa to introduce itself? “I am Alexa, an AI model trained to answer your questions and perform certain IoT tasks.” Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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