ASK ALEXA ABOUT the weather, and it’ll tell you it’s sunny and 75 in a pleasant monotone. Prompt it to tell you a joke, and it’ll offer a pun in its signature staccato. Suggest that it sing a song, and it’ll belt out an auto-tuned country ballad. Amazon’s virtual assistant boasts a number of clever, humanlike abilities—but, as its voice betrays, Alexa is still just a robot.
To help rid Alexa of its cyborgian lilt, Amazon recently upgraded its speech synthesis markup language tags, which developers use to code more natural verbal patterns into Alexa’s skills, or apps. The new tags allow Alexa to do things like whisper, pause, bleep out expletives, and vary the speed, volume, emphasis, and pitch of its speech. This means Alexa and other digital assistants might soon sound less robotic and more human.