If Amazon has its way, companies will soon tap Amazon Web Services (AWS) en masse to create voices tailored to their brands. The Seattle tech giant today launched Brand Voice, a fully managed service within Amazon Polly, Amazon’s cloud service that converts text into lifelike speech, that pairs customers with Amazon engineers to build AI-generated voices representing certain personas.
As Amazon director of text-to-speech Rafal Kuklinski and Amazon Polly senior product manager Ankit Dhawan explained in a blog post, Brand Voice allows organizations to differentiate their brand by incorporating unique vocal identities into their products and services. “This opens up a breadth of opportunities to create custom voices with a … speaking style that [companies] and brand[s] identify with,” the pair wrote.
Amazon says it worked with KFC in Canada to build a voice in a Southern U.S. English accent for the chain’s brand ambassador — Colonel Sanders — within KFC’s latest Amazon Alexa app. Separately, it designed an Australian English voice for National Australia Bank, which launched as a part of a broader NAB contact center migration to Amazon Connect, Amazon’s omnichannel cloud contact center product.
Here’s a sample of the Colonel Sanders voice:
And here’s NAB’s custom voice:
Amazon detailed its work on AI-generated speech in a research paper late last year (“Effect of data reduction on sequence-to-sequence neural TTS”), in which researchers described a system that can learn to adopt a new speaking style from just a few hours of training — as opposed to the tens of hours it might take a voice actor to read in a target style.
Amazon’s AI model consists of two components. The first is a generative neural network that converts a sequence of phonemes into a sequence of spectrograms, or visual representations of the spectrum of frequencies of sound as they vary with time. The second is a vocoder that converts those spectrograms into a continuous audio signal.
The end result? An AI model-training method that combines a large amount of neutral-style speech data with only a few hours of supplementary data in the desired style, and an AI system capable of distinguishing elements of speech both independent of a speaking style and unique to that style. Amazon has used it internally to produce new voices for Alexa, as well as developer-facing voices across several languages in Amazon Polly.
Such technology has obvious commercial implications. Brand voices — such as Progressive’s Flo, who is played by actress and comedian Stephanie Courtney — are often tasked with recording phone trees for interactive voice response (IVR) systems or e-learning scripts for corporate training videos. Synthesization could boost actors’ productivity by cutting down on ancillary recordings and pick-ups (recording sessions to address mistakes, changes, or additions in voiceover scripts) while freeing them up to pursue creative work — and enabling them to collect residuals.
With Brand Voice and its other neural text-to-speech services, Amazon is effectively going toe to toe with Google, which recently debuted 31 new AI-synthesized WaveNet voices and 24 new standard voices in its Cloud Text-to-Speech service (bringing the total number of WaveNet voices to 57). It has another rival in Microsoft, which offers three AI-generated voices in preview and 75 standard voices via its Azure Speech Service API.
Amazon’s Brand Voice also competes with offerings from startups like Voicery, which delivers customized digital voices that sound impressively human-like. Text-to-speech tech startup iSpeech boasts comparable voice cloning tools, as does Modulate, Respeecher, Resemble AI, Descript, and Bengaluru, India-based DeepSync.