Samuel L. Jackson Debuts as Alexa’s First Celebrity Voice
Samuel L. Jackson is officially available as a voice assistant replacement for Amazon Alexa as announced in September. The famous actor’s voice can now be purchased on the Alexa Skills store to tell users about the weather, answer questions, and otherwise bring his panache to smart speakers and displays.
Samuel L. Jackson’s presence comes in two different forms, depending on whether the user wants him in PG or R-rated form. That means you can choose to have him swear or avoid the profanity. Both versions cost the same, $0.99, with an expected increase of $4.99 in the new year, so if you are keen to speak with Jackson, now is the best time to add him to your Alexa device.
To turn Jackson into a voice assistant, Amazon held several long recording sessions, getting his voice to say all kinds of things. But, the voice assistant doesn’t just replay those recordings. Amazon applied its neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology to the vocal records, teaching Alexa how to sound like Jackson under other circumstances. Jackson’s voice responds as creatively Alexa, regardless of whether the words were ever recorded in the booth.
It’s not all machine learning, though. Jackson recorded special jokes, comments, and personal information about himself that the voice assistant will play verbatim when it is relevant. No need for the NTTS when Jackson can share his birthday himself. The voice skill, while flexible, doesn’t entirely replace Alexa’s more usual speech. Shopping lists, reminders, and interactions with other Alexa Skills all require the use of the standard artificial voice, at least for now.
2019 has seen an uptick in using celebrities for voice assistants. Google Assistant, in particular, has added Insecure creator Issa Rae and John Legend as what it calls cameos. Google’s WaveNet technology enables the voice assistant to imitate Legend like NTTS does with Jackson but in a more limited form. For Rae, the voice assistant only plays lines that were recorded in the studio. Jackson’s Alexa integration is more comprehensive, creating a version of the extra accents and voices that Alexa and Google Assistant have both added recently.
Amazon has said it has plans for other celebrity voices in the coming year. Jackson is just paving the way for them. The low price point certainly suggests that Amazon wants people to test out the idea and become interested enough to buy more. If Jackson is getting a cut of the revenue, there is reason to believe he will come back to the studio and update his voice to make it even more accurate and add new jokes and comments.
He could set a trend, but the interest in celebrity voices is already extant. This summer, the Adobe Analytics Voice Report discovered that a third of the participants want a celebrity voice as a voice assistant option. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Will Smith topped the list of ideal choices, followed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris Rock, and Oprah Winfrey. Samuel L. Jackson is beating them all to the punch, though, which could cement his place as a new kind of celebrity.