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Amazon Alexa can now whisper or scold you

Amazon has released new features for Alexa that allow for whispering, bleeping out expletives, substituting words and modifying rate of speech and emphasis.

Published onApril 29, 2017

The Amazon logo on an Amazon Echo.

Amazon’s Alexa is already a daily interlocutor on your conversations but you may have occasionally found yourself wishing that talking to Alexa could be a little more… lifelike. Well, that time is now here. Amazon engineers have recently detailed additions they’ve made to the Speech Synthesis Markup Language that Alexa uses, which will allow skills developers to humanize Alexa in a number of new ways.

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Once these SSML tags are applied, Alexa will be able to whisper to you – which could be helpful when sharing sensitive information like passwords and login information – or even ‘bleep’ out expletives (or any terms considered potentially offensive), which could be pretty handy if using Alexa as a storyteller. Other changes will allow devs to modify Alexa’s rate of speech and volume to emphasize certain words or generally change the way the voice assistant speaks.

These new abilities could be used to great effect. For example, as Amazon notes, “Remember when you were little (and in trouble), a parent would begin talking low and slow and this got your attention? Well, that’s exactly what [the emphasis tag] does for Alexa and the tenor of the conversation. It varies dialog and thus maintains engagement”. Alexa will also be able to substitute words, to say something other than what’s written, which should make for some pretty comedic dev jokes.

The new features are now available for Alexa skill builders in the US, UK and Germany and they can be previewed in Amazon’s voice simulator on the developer portal. Amazon has also released ‘speechcons’ for Alexa in the UK and Germany (they were made available in the US in February), which allow snippets of speech to be delivered in a “more characterful way”. With more regional variations and greater control of how and What Alexa says, Amazon is only likely to further its substantial lead in the digital assistant space.

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