Santa Clause is Alexa’s Latest Celebrity Voice
Santa Claus has joined Alexa’s list of global celebrity voice options. Like Shaquille O’Neal, Melissa McCarthy, and Samuel L. Jackson, the jolly one’s voice is synthesized from extensive audio recordings to say sentences not recorded in a booth. The voice app also augments Alexa’s wake word choices with ‘Hey Santa,’ once the app is enabled.
The voice app is formally known as Santa – holiday personality for Alexa, a very on the red nose description of the novelty voice. The synthesized voice does come across as appropriately upbeat and clearly seems to want to evoke the Santa from Rankin Bass stop-motion holiday classics about Rudolf and Frosty. There’s only been a double handful of ratings so far, with a sharp divide between five and one-star responses lowering its average to 2.8. Every one of the written reviews is five stars, however,so it may be some post-modern Grinches rather than serious issues with the voice app.
“Santa Claus is here to add extra holiday cheer to your Alexa experience. Just ask and Santa can tell you a story, sing a song, crack a joke, set a timer, and so much more,” Amazon wrote about St. Nick’s voice skill. “For hours of cheer for the whole family, just say “Alexa, enable ‘Hey Santa’” to get started.”
The range of questions and requests available to ask Santa’s AI counterpart is notably extensive, with five specific classic Christmas songs, a story, and the chance to ask about ‘North Pole news.’ Amazon suggested other things to ask the voice app, including jokes, games, dance requests, and even a quiz to find out if you’re naughty or nice. Asking Santa if he can laugh provokes the expected ‘Ho Ho Ho’ though it’s not clear if a phantom voice’s belly can shake like a bowl full of jelly. Like its more mundane counterparts, the Santa voice can also handle some, though not all of the standard range of Alexa requests like reporting the weather, looking up answers to questions in Alexa’s database, and playing music. As reported on social media and quickly confirmed, getting Santa’s voice to repeat various song and band names like In A Gadda Da Vida or Bare Naked Ladies is genuinely entertaining.
Amazon didn’t say how much recording it did with “Santa” to produce enough data that the AI could generate an artificial voice, but the previous celebrities each spent about 60 hours recording their voices for up to eight hours at a time. Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology then had enough to teach Alexa how to mimic them. Santa is technically the second non-American official celebrity Alexa voice. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan added his voice to Alexa speaking Hindi in September. The voice app doesn’t make a big deal of adding Hey Santa as a wake word, but that was an impressive technical accomplishment and late addition to Samuel L. Jackson‘s voice, though it was built into the voice apps for the other famous names. The main distinguishing feature for Santa compared to the others, besides not having a swearing mode like Jackson, is that it’s free. The others cost $5. Just make sure not spill any milk on your Echo on Christmas Eve.