No more personalisation. Voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Melisssa McCarthy are to stop working on Alexa devices
Amazon has confirmed it is winding down the ability for people to use celebrity voices to personalise their Alexa powered devices.
The voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Melisssa McCarthy will stop working on Alexa devices, even if users have purchased them, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed to the Verge.
It was back in September 2019 when Amazon said it would allow for the personalisation of its Alexa personal assistant with celebrity voices.
This personalisation allowed users (for a fee of 99 cents at launch, but later costing $4.99) to make Alexa mimic the voice of the actor Samuel L Jackson using Amazon’s neural text-to-speech model to generate amusing (and sometimes explicit) responses, rather than rely on prerecorded sound clips.
In 2021 Amazon added the voices of McCarthy and Shaq.
So long as users had purchased the option to add them to an Alexa device, they could use the “Hey [celebrity name]” command to ask questions, hear jokes, or listen to a story – all in the style of Jackson, Shaq, or McCarthy.
The Verge reported that all three voices are a bit limited in what they can respond to, as they don’t work with shopping lists, reminders, or skills.
But now it seems that Amazon is pulling the plug.
“After three years, we’re winding down celebrity voices,” Amazon spokesperson Eric Sveum said in a statement to The Verge. “Customers will be able to continue using these voices for a limited time, and can contact our customer service team for a refund.”
“Samuel L. Jackson’s Alexa voice is no longer available for purchase,” a note on Jackson’s Amazon webpage states. “Customers who previously purchased the experience may continue to use the skill until April 2023 by saying ‘Hey Samuel.’”
Despite this, Amazon’s Sveum told The Verge that users will be able to hear Jackson’s voice through 7th June.
Amazon is axing approximately 27,000 corporate staff.
Many of the job losses have impacted Amazon’s devices organisation (responsible for Alexa, Echo smart speakers and Kindle e-readers), its retail division, and ironically its human resources department.
Indeed, at least 2,000 of those cuts have affected workers in the devices division.
It comes amid reports that Amazon’s devices division had fallen out of favour with Amazon’s current management.
Alexa was said to be championed by former CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, but it is alleged that Alexa has never managed to create an ongoing revenue stream for Amazon.
Indeed, it was reported at the time that just about every plan to monetise Alexa had failed, with one former employee branding Alexa “a colossal failure of imagination,” and “a wasted opportunity.”
It seems that users are interacting with Alexa in ways that Amazon just cannot monetize, such as asking Alexa about the weather, play music, or setting a timer.
What people are not doing is fulfilling Amazon’s hope that customers would buy things on Amazon using their voice.
In January Amazon’s hardware chief Dave Limp told CNBC that Amazon hasn’t given up on its Alexa voice assistant, even though the team behind the technology was a prime target of the largest layoffs in the company’s history.
Earlier this week Amazon agreed to pay approximately $31 million to settle two federal lawsuits, which alleged Amazon violated users’ privacy – including that of children – via its Alexa voice assistant and its Ring doorbell cameras.