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No more talking to Amitabh Bachchan on Alexa as Amazon kills celebrity voice feature

In 2020, the celebrity voice feature came to India, and Amitabh Bachchan became the first celebrity voice for Amazon Alexa in the country.

Edited By: Shubham Verma

Published: May 31, 2023, 06:00 PM IST


Amazon has confirmed the discontinuation of the celebrity voices feature on Alexa, meaning voices of celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, American actor Samuel L. Jackson, and American former professional basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, among others, will no longer be available to purchase. The feature is going away globally, plus Amazon will discontinue support for celebrity voices on Alexa-powered devices in the coming days.

While purchasing Bachchan’s voice on Alexa, the page stated, “This skill is no longer available for purchase. Customers who previously purchased this experience will continue to have access for one year from the date of purchase”. You can alternatively contact the customer support team to ask for a refund, according to The Verge quoting Amazon spokesperson Eric Sveum as saying.

On purchasing Jackson’s voice on Alexa, the page mentioned that the personality voice for Alexa is no longer available for purchase, and the customers who previously purchased the experience may continue to use the skill until April 30, 2023, by saying “Hey Samuel”. But even though that deadline is over, Jackson’s voice will be available on Alexa through June 7. Jackson was the first voice to be introduced and could tell users jokes and stories or answer questions.

An industry-first feature that didn’t last long

The celebrity voices, which debuted in 2019, make use of Amazon’s neural text-to-speech model, which employs machine learning and is intended to sound more lifelike. Rather than using pre-recorded responses, the model generates voices with entertaining personalities. In 2020, the feature came to India, and Bachchan became the first celebrity voice for Alexa in the country. But Bachchan was the only Indian celebrity whose voice was used on Alexa.

While Amazon has not made it clear why it has decided to shut down the celebrity voice feature, it could hint at the troubles Alexa may be facing. Last year in November, Amazon chief executive officer Andy Jassy pulled up several employees in the Alexa department, which suffered over $5 million in operating losses in recent years. Earlier this year, Amazon also fired about 18,000 employees, 2,000 of which belonged to the Alexa and Echo division.

In the wake of the surging popularity of generative AI products, Amazon may be planning to rework Alexa by integrating its own large language model (LLM). An Insider report suggested doing that would make Alexa “more proactive and conversational,” perhaps similar to how a potential voice-driven version of ChatGPT would work. But that also means that Amazon does not see celebrity voices fitting into that vision.

Author Name | Shubham Verma


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