Thursday 30 June 2022

Amazon’s Latest Innovation: Necromancy?

 Most tweets are ephemeral, but few have stuck with me like this one:

The joke here is that many of the innovations sought after by tech gurus are “inspired” by concepts that appear as disturbing portents of possible futures. The “metaverse,” an attempt to force more of human life away from the physical world, is an example; the name and idea come from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash.

What, then, to make of Amazon’s latest innovation: technology that allows us to bring back the voices of the dead? Via SkyNews:

Amazon says it wants to “make memories last” and is developing a system to let its assistant mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio.

So your Alexa may soon be able to mimic your departed nan, long-lost friend or, presumably, someone off the TV.

The goal is to “make the memories last” after “so many of us have lost someone we love” during the pandemic, said Rohit Prasad, an Amazon senior vice president. . . .

At a conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, a video segment portrayed a child who asked, “Alexa, can grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?”

A moment later, Alexa affirmed the command and changed her voice.

In this, too, there is a sci-fi precedent of recent vintage: The episode “Be Right Back” of the sci-fi series Black Mirror turns on a woman who uses digital and android technology to revive her deceased husband. (Complications ensue.)

We’re not quite there yet. But it’s still sort of unsettling that Amazon has created, essentially, necromancy — the term for invoking the spirits of the dead through magic. Arthur C. Clarke noted that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Yet something this macabre, even if well-intentioned, can inspire thoughts even more

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