Does your Echo or Echo Dot sound a little too robotic for your tastes when responding to queries? If that’s the case, then Amazon is working diligently to make your digital assistant AI mastermind sound a bit more “human” with regards to its speech patterns.
Until now, Alexa’s female voice, while helpful in an increasing number of ways thanks to thousands of skills, is rather monotone and speaks at a steady cadence. However, Amazon is infusing Alexa with the ability to whisper and even change the pitch of her voice. The changes come as additions to Alexa’s Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML).
The new tags for developers that are incorporated into SSML include:
- Whispers: rather self-explanatory, giving Alexa the ability to provide feedback without blurting out at full volume
- Expletives: curse words can be masked with a “bleep” to protect impressionable ears
- Prosody: controls Alexa’s volume, pitch and rate of speech
Two other tags that are included are sub (which can substitute words or phrases that differ from Alexa’s “originally scheduled programming”, and emphasis. Amazon gives a number of examples on how these tags could be used in practice, including this code for commanding Alexa to whisper:
The user name is Alexa Devs and the password is… wait, come closer…
<amazon:effect name="whispered"> the password is whisper. </amazon:effect>
In addition to the SSML tags, Amazon is introducing speechcons that allow developers to specifically tailor Alexa’s speech to the intricacies of U.S. English, UK English and German speech. So, if you want to hear Alexa give her best Sonny Corleone impression, she can belt out “bada bing bada boom” with ease or surf with Donatello while exclaiming “cowabunga”.
In the end, this is just a small sample of the powerful tools that Amazon is providing to developers in order to ensure a thriving community for Alexa and its skills repertoire. There’s an increasingly intense battle brewing between AI assistants from Microsoft, Google, Apple, and even Samsung so it’s good to see that Amazon is looking to advance the sector rather than meet the status quo.