artificial intelligence

Sorry/Happy To Report, Alexa Can Now Express Emotions

The voice of Alexa, like the voice of many AI devices and automated phone systems, is no-nonsense. She’s not happy or sad, interested or bored. She’s just vanilla, with an occasional wrongly placed emphasis on some syllables.

Until now.

“Starting today, you can enable Alexa to respond with either a happy/excited or a disappointed/empathetic tone in the US,”  the Alexa Skill Kit Blog announced, accompanied by detailed instructions.

“Emotional responses are particularly relevant to skills in the gaming and sports categories. Additionally, you can have Alexa respond in a speaking style that is more suited for a specific type of content, starting with news and music.”



The blog post says, “Speaking styles are curated text-to-speech voices designed to create a more delightful [user]  experience for specific content. For example, the news speaking style makes Alexa’s voice sound similar to what you hear from TV news anchors and radio hosts.”

Presumably, that’s supposed to be an improvement.

The blog gives examples of how Alexa could tell the news story about the opening of the new $2 billion San Francisco transportation depot, or in another speaking mode, how Alexa could announce the top music hits for the week.

“For example, you can have Alexa respond in a happy/excited tone when a [user]  answers a trivia question correctly or wins a game.” Or you can plug in a disapointed/empathetic tone if that’s the appropriate tone.

The voice “style” doesn’t seem as jarring as the emotional tweaks a user can create. Here are some examples, as Alexa recites one sentence in an “Excited (High Intensity”) tone and a “Disappointed (High Intensity)” voice.  

The sentence Amazon created to sample is  “I’m playing a single hand in what looks like a losing game.” In the most disappointed voice, it sounds particularly forlorn, like a Courtney Barnett song.  The blog post runs through the gamut of possible emotions, where, on the more uplifting side, the sentence sounds playfully sarcastic.

The blog gives no reason for the change, but says, “Early customer feedback indicates that overall satisfaction with the voice experience increased by 30% when Alexa responded with emotions.”

And given upcoming events, Emotional Alexa may be the right thing at the right time. Her informative sentences, with some spice, might be able to match a user’s attitude, too. Here’s one to try:  “On Black Friday, many stores open at 4 in the morning.”

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