Amazon drops celebrity voices from Alexa and will issue refunds upon request

If you’ve been saving up to integrate Shaq’s voice into your Alexa devices, you’ve officially blown it. Amazon is dropping all of its Alexa-enabled celebrity voices, including Shaquille O’Neal, Melissa McCarthy and, let’s just say it’s not, Samuel L. Jackson. Separate voice options will no longer be available for purchase and will no longer work even if you made a purchase some time ago, as noted by The edge.

This brings us to the topic of refunds, and it looks like there won’t be any. This isn’t earth-shattering news, as voice options launched for just $1 before jumping to $5 in recent months. Yet buying something and having it vaporize into nothing is never fun for consumers. All is not lost, however, as Amazon told Engadget, it will process refunds upon request.

“After three years, we are ending celebrity voices. Customers will be able to continue using these voices for a limited time and may contact our customer service team for a refund,” a company spokesperson wrote.

Samuel L. Jackson is leaving any day now, with an official announcement on the purchase page that the feature will officially stop working next week. Melissa McCarthy and Shaq will operate until September.

For the uninitiated, this feature was an add-on for Alexa that transformed her usual chirping tones into that of a celebrity. This was all pretty limited compared to Alexa’s full feature set, as celebrities won’t do callbacks and don’t integrate with many skills. However, they tell jokes, answer questions, and perform simple voice-assisted tasks. The service started with Jackson in 2019 but expanded to include Shaq and McCarthy soon after.

So why did Amazon shut down the feature? Alexa is no longer the hottest thing in the universe, and the company’s hardware division recently laid off thousands of people involved in designing and manufacturing the Echo speakers, which could be one of them. Again, the feature set with these voices was anemic, so maybe not enough people bought them to offset the licensing costs. Finally, there is the AI ​​elephant in the room. Reports indicate that Amazon is building its own big language model (LLM) like ChatGPT to radically transform Alexa, and celebrity voices may no longer fit that vision.

Update, May 30, 2023, 2:50 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.

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