Alexa just got a little bit cooler. On September 25, Amazon announced their virtual assistant would be getting a bunch of upgrades, including new ways to monitor your family, control your environment, and — most importantly — provide you with countless hours of entertainment. Out of the five new Alexa entertainment features that Amazon announced, one has caught the attention of tech geeks and Hollywood fans alike: Samuel L. Jackson can now talk to you. And even better? He can do it while cursing.
As part of the unveiling of Alexa’s new features, Amazon announced that users will now have the option to choose Jackson’s deep baritone voice to speak to them, instead of Alexa’s normally soft, feminine timbre. They also said that users will have the option to choose, upon set up, if they would like an explicit or non-explicit version of the actor. The choice is not permanent, either. Those who want to switch between versions can do so via the Alexa app.
Jackson is known for his often-colorful language, as some of his most iconic lines involve many curse words. His roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and David Ellis’ Snakes on a Plane have solidified the connection between adult language and Jackson in most people’s minds. It’s great to know that Amazon did not shy away from this relationship when implementing his voice into the technology.
The actor is the first celebrity to lend their voice to Alexa using neural text-to-speech (NTTS). What this means is that his voice will be recreated through an AI interface that has studied the vocal patterns and inflections of the actor in order to make the voice sound as lifelike as possible, without him having to record tons of audio that can, and most likely will, eventually run out.
Using NTTS, the AI algorithm can predict Jackson’s voice to recreate words that he may not have ever said, giving Alexa much more flexibility when it comes to how it can answer queries.
Although other celebrity voices have been available on Alexa, those were all specific, event-based interactions that were pre-recorded. NTTS will allow Jackson’s voice to be replicated in a multitude of interactions. He’ll be replacing Alexa — for the most part. Alexa herself will still be the only option (currently) for shopping, lists, reminders, or skills.
Having Jackson speak to you isn’t free, however. For the time being, adding him to your Alexa device will cost $0.99, although Amazon has claimed that this is an introductory price only. The product is also not live yet, with Amazon saying functionality will start sometime later this year. Expect the price to increase once Jackson actually goes live.
Amazon also revealed they are working on getting other celebrity voices to pair with their virtual assistant, though more are not expected to be announced until 2020, at the earliest. And for now, Samuel L. Jackson’s colorful language should be entertaining enough.