For its first such collaboration with an Indian personality, Amazon’s Alexa would now be available in the voice of legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan.
In addition to the features of a regular Alexa, users will be able to access content Bachchan has handpicked himself. Personal anecdotes, some poems written by his father, some tongue twisters, along with some motivational quotes were the actor’s choices for his fans.
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“Creating the world’s first bilingual celebrity voice required us to invent and reinvent across almost every element of speech science — wake word, speech recognition, neural text-to-speech and more,” told Puneesh Kumar, country leader for Alexa, Amazon India.
The primary challenges for the company to do justice to India’s beloved voice were twofold;
Of course, the voice had to be perfected.
“My mom’s a big fan of Mr Bachchan. I was worried that if there was even a single flaw, I would not hear the end of it,” said Manoj Sindhwani to a media outlet. He is the vice president of Alexa Speech at Amazon.
His is an expressive voice, rich with intonation, making it very difficult for AI to pick it up flawlessly.
Moreover, the choice of wake word, ‘Amit ji’, also posed problems of its own. ‘Alexa’ has so far been it, it is what one would call out to wake or activate Alexa. ‘Amit ji’ sounds similar to a lot of words and phrases in the Indian vocabulary. Other words were considered, different versions of his name, but none of them had the same ring.
The wake word was further complicated as they tried to ensure Alexa would recognise both ‘Alexa’ and `Amit ji’ as wake words. Normally, that would take up a lot of memory and computation. This issue was resolved through transfer learning, where skills picked up from one domain are applied to another.
The work with Bachchan involved tech teams in India, Poland, the UK and the US, and the actor recording his voice across many sessions, so that the artificial intelligence (AI) systems could then work on it.
Throughout those sessions, it unfolded that Bachchan does not compromise on standards.
“There were so many occasions where we felt, Oh, this sounds pretty good, it’s pretty close to your voice. And he was like, no, let’s give it another try, I want to get it perfect,” told Manoj Sindhwani.
“Working with Amazon to introduce my voice on Alexa was a new experience in bringing together the magic of voice technology and artistic creativity. I am excited that my well-wishers can now interact with me via this new medium, and looking forward to hear how they feel about this,” said Amitabh Bachchan in a statement.
Echo users can now sign up for the features at an introductory price of Rs 149 for a year.