No, Amazon, I don’t want Alexa to bring my relatives back from the dead

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. This Alexa feature is too creepy for me

Amazon Echo smart home speaker, as powered by AI assistant Alexa
(Image credit: Amazon)

One of my favourite marketing fails, which may or may not be true, is the story that Pepsi's slogan "Come Alive With Pepsi" was mistranslated in China as "Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead."

Pepsi has never challenged the tale, which makes me think there's some truth in it, but of course Pepsi never actually tried to do a Reanimator on anybody's dead relatives. However now it seems that Amazon might enable you to talk to the dead via your Echo Dot.

According to Sky News (opens in new tab), "Soon you could opt to have a deceased loved one tell you stories, play music or simply turn on the lights - all from your Alexa device." This is not a feature I've been hoping to see in the best smart speakers, and quite frankly it gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids

Would you want deceased Grandma Doris reading bedtime stories to your child through an Amazon Echo Dot Kids?

(Image credit: Amazon)

Alexa, show me a really bad feature idea

According to Amazon senior VP Rohit Prasat, the goal is to "make the memories last" because "so many of us have lost someone we love" during the pandemic. So rather than, say, paying tax to fund future pandemic preparations, vaccine research and other helpful things, Amazon wants you to be able to get your dead nan to tell you the weather forecast.

I know I'm being a Debbie Downer here. But having digital assistants mimicking specific people is a big old box with PANDORA written on it; Microsoft has already put restrictions on the voices its speech tech can use, because the same tech designed to help people with speech issues can also be used to make political deepfakes. And while I understand the desire to hear our lost loved ones' voices as if they were still with us, I can imagine all kinds of dystopian or just creepy applications for this voice mimicking feature.

I recently gave away almost all of my Alexa devices when Alexa decided to start trying to sell me things. It's bad enough when that's happening in Alexa's voice. Imagine how you'd feel if the marketers were able to use the voice of someone you'd loved and lost.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).