Samuel L. Jackson now has his own wake word to go with digitally generated voice on the Amazon Alexa platform. Instead of asking Alexa to ask Jackson to respond, users can say “Hey Samuel” to invoke the digitally generated voice of the movie star. The direct wakeup could be a feature in upcoming celebrity voices that Amazon has started to unveil.
Straight to Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson’s voice debuted as an option on Alexa in December, a few months after Amazon first announced the plan. His voice is accessible as a skill on the Alexa store, and comes in either PG or R-rated form depending on if you want him to swear. The skill is supposed to eventually cost $5, but is still available for the introductory $1 price as of this writing. Jackson recorded a lot of words and sentences for Alexa, including several unique jokes and personal information that Alexa can play back verbatim. Most of the recordings, however, were used with Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology to teach Alexa how to sound like Jackson when saying things he never recorded.
Until now, though, coaxing Jackson’s voice out of a smart speaker meant asking Alexa to ask him to share tell you the weather or some other bit of information. A glance at negative reviews for the skill shows a long list of people who thought Jackson would outright replace the standard Alexa voice and were annoyed that they had to ask the voice assistant to ask Jackson questions to hear what he had to say. Amazon cited some of those reviews as a motivating factor for including the wake phrase in the update.
“We take the feedback of our customers seriously,” Alexa senior software development manager Remus Mois said in a blog post explaining the tech behind the new wake word. “We decided to improve the Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice by allowing users to invoke Sam Jackson with a new wake word. At Alexa, we believe that customers should be able to access their favorite agent or persona directly, be it Alexa, another agent, or a celebrity voice.”
The wake word is part of a bigger update to Jackson’s voice in response to customer comments. People repeatedly asked for Jackson to speak more casually, which means more data for NTTS, so Amazon convinced Jackson to go back into the recording booth. The new audio taught Jackson’s AI avatar more than 30,000 new phrases, including five times as many swear words if that mode is activated. He also included a bunch of new comments, jokes, and stories. His repetoire incorporates responding to requests to roast the speaker,promotion for his new Quibi show with Ryan Reynolds, and a heartfelt testament to Chadwick Boseman, who recently passed away.
Jackson is something of a guinea pig for the celebrity Alexa voice as the first to arrive on the platform. Next, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan will lend his voice to Alexa, the first in India and the first to speak Hindi. Amazon has promised more U.S. celebrity voices next year too, but hasn’t hinted who will be on the list. In a survey about celebrity voices for voice assistants last year, Dwayne, “The Rock” Johnson, was the most popular option. He was followed closely by Will Smith, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris Rock, and Oprah Winfrey filling out the rest of the top choices.