Amazon has announced that its Alexa voice assistant is now able to express excitement and disappointment when answering a user's questions.
Available now for developers to code into their Alexa skills, the update is intended to help Alexa sound more human and to express empathy when speaking to users.
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Amazon suggests the excited tone of voice could be used when Alexa reveals you have answered a quiz question correctly, and that the disappointed voice could be used when your sports team lost their game.
Each of the emotions have three levels of intensity - high, medium and low. You can listen to these on Amazon's Alexa developers YouTube channel, and we've embedded two below.
The whole list of voice demonstrations is here:
- Excited (High Intensity)
- Excited (Medium Intensity)
- Excited (Low Intensity)
- Disappointed (High Intensity)
- Disappointed (Medium Intensity)
- Disappointed (Low Intensity)
For now, these examples only feature Alexa saying the same phrase - "I'm playing a single hand in what looks like a losing game" - but their differences give a good impression of how the system will work once developers get their hands on it.
Amazon's Catherine Gao said in a blog post on the company's developer website: "Early customer feedback indicates that overall satisfaction with the voice experience increased by 30 percent when Alexa responded with emotions."
Also announced this week is how developers can enable two new speaking styles in heir Alexa skills. These are called News and Music, and adjust Alexa's voice to sound more like a newsreader and a radio DJ, respectively. Both are available in US English, and the news speaking style is available in Australian English too.
You can listen to demonstrations of these here:
- News (US) Standard Voice
- News (US) Speaking Style
- News (AU) Standard Voice
- News (AU) Speaking Style
- Music (US) Standard Voice
- Music (US) Speaking Style
These speaking styles see Alexa adjust aspects of its speaking style, like intonation, which words are emphasized, and the timing of pauses. Goa said: "While conducting blind listening tests, the news style was perceived to be 31 percent more natural than Alexa's standard voice and the music style was perceived to be 84 percent more natural."
We like the progress Amazon is making here, and welcome a bit more character from Alexa. We think a voice assistant sharing your happiness about an unseasonably warm weather forecast, or sharing your disappointment over a lost game, will please Alexa users, but without creeping them out. The voice sounds more human-like, but compared to Google Duplex it is still clearly a robot. Thankfully, Alexa isn't saying 'um' and 'erm' just yet.