Amazon announced at its devices event Wednesday that it has added a new feature to its Alexa cloud-based AI voice control platform enabling users to auto-delete their spoken commands from the system database, as a gesture to assuage the fears of those concerned with their privacy.

The announced new capability is being introduced as part of the ecommerce giant’s catalog of 2019 Alexa-empowered devices and services, following reports that Amazon uses employees to listen to users’ voice commands, allegedly in order to improve the accuracy of its speech recognition technology.

In a related feature upgrade, Amazon said it will also launch this year FreeTime on Alexa for the Echo Show family of devices, which will assist parents in gating the delivery age-appropriate videos and content to their kids. This will also let parents establish a list of people their children are allowed to call or send messages to, and set use and bedtime limits.

In other Alexa improvements, Amazon said it is enhancing the sound, inflection, gender and even identity of the voice of its AI-voice-control Alexa digital assistants, including the use of synthesized celebrity voices.

As part of that action, Amazon said it has signed on actor Samuel L. Jackson to use a synthesized version of his voice as a premium add-on pack for Alexa users.

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Amazon said it plans to add other celebrity guest voices next year. Amazon will make Jackson’s “voice pack” for Alexa available in either “clean” or “explicit” modes later this year through a .99-cent special introductory offer.

The actor’s voice will be presented on the cloud-based AI digital assistant platform via a new Neural Text-to-Speech technology developed by Amazon. The technology will also make Alexa’s current default female voice sound more natural by adding more emotive and expressive speech patterns.

The technology also enables Alexa to replicate speech inflections of real people, like Jackson, through voice synthesis, rather than using pre-recorded phrases. The actor’s voice will be limited to certain applications like wakeup messages — by asking Alexa to “have Samuel L. Jackson wake me up at 6 a.m.”, for example, or “have Samuel L. Jackson sing happy birthday to me.”

After agreeing to the Jackson voice pack, users first will need to install it and then ask Alexa to “introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson.” The celebrity voice reportedly will not be available to perform tasks like leave reminders, create shopping lists, assist with purchases or perform Alexa skills.

In other news, Amazon unveiled new hardware devices, including: an 8-inch Echo Show 8 ($129.99 retail price); a new version of the Echo smart speaker ($99.99) with better sound quality; a new Echo Dot with Clock ($59.99) with a display showing the time, temperature or other info; and the new higher fidelity Echo Studio ($199.99), which is a 360-degree 3D audio smart speaker system with Dolby Atmos support and the ability to calibrate sound output to the room acoustics via sensitive built-in mics.

Other new products include Amazon Echo Buds ($129.99), the company’s first wireless earbuds that are Alexa-enabled and integrate Bose’s noise-cancellation technology. Other new products due out this year include: Echo Frames ($179.99), which are smartglasses that will accept prescription lenses; and an Echo Loop smart ring ($99.99).

Amazon said Alexa will be the exclusive voice service for Discovery Network’s Food Network Kitchen subscription service that is slated to launch in October for $6.99 per month. Viewers will be able to use Alexa voice commands to search for and select thousands of recipes, live cooking shows, and other videos.

Amazon also announced a multilingual mode for Alexa, initially supporting English and Spanish in the United States, English and French in Canada and English and Hindi in India.

In other announcements, Amazon said General Motors next year will integrate Alexa into vehicles of its various brands, including upgrades starting with 2018 models to help drivers by providing voice control for linked smartphones, navigation, and in-car entertainment systems. GM is being added to a list of car makers using Alexa, including Toyota, BMW and Ford.

By Greg Tarr

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