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Alexa developers get 8 free voices to use in skills, courtesy of Amazon Polly


Now Alexas voice apps dont have to sound like Alexa. Amazon today is offering a way for developers to give their voice apps a unique character with the launch of eight free voices to use in skills, courtesy of the Amazon Polly service. The voices are only available in U.S. English, and include a mix of both male and female, according to Amazon Pollys website. Amazon Polly was first introduced at Amazons re:Invent developer event in November 2016, and has been steadily ramping up its capabilities in the time since. The text-to-speech service today is capable of things like whispering, speech marks, using a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression – all which make the voices sound more natural. While the speech engine today supports a couple dozen languages, only the U.S. English voices are being offered to Alexa developers at this time. But their addition could make some of Alexas skills more engaging – especially those involving different characters, like an adventure story or game, for example. Developers today may already be using multiple voices in their skills, but the process of doing so is more cumbersome and rigid, as with mp3 file uploads. To use an Amazon Polly voice instead, developers would use Structured Speech Markup Language (SSML) and then specify which voice they want with the voice name tag. This makes it easier to adjust what is said, as developers could just change the text instead of having to re-record an mp3. Amazon has been working to make Polly more accessible to a wider audience, recently by offering a WordPress plugin that could turn your posts into podcasts. The new Alexa skills integration, meanwhile, gives Polly another avenue of reaching consumers. Its also another means of competing with Alexas rival, Google Assistant. At Googles developer conference last week, the company announced six new voices generated by Wavenet, including one from singer John Legend. These will roll out later this year, and presumably, could make their way to the Assistant developer ecosystem as well.

Amazon brings 8 new voices to Alexa skills


Developers making voice apps for Amazons Alexa can now use different voices to power their experiences. The voices are being provided for free through the AWS text-to-speech service Polly. Created in 2016 with the same conversational AI that powers Alexa, Polly can speak in nearly 50 voices in 24 languages, but at its start, only eight Polly voices synthesized to sound more human are being made available in developer preview for English-speaking Alexa skills in the United States. Prior to the introduction of voices from Polly, developers were able to change a voice in a skill experience with the use of pre-recorded MP3 files.  Skills developers will be able to add Polly voices using Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML). First introduced for Alexa last year, SSML is a set of tags that can be added when constructing an Alexa skill for human-sounding expressions like Boom! and Bada Bing, noises like sighs and expletive beeps, and the ability to lower Alexas voice to a whisper. The ability to use different voices is the latest feature extended to Alexa developers. In-skill purchases opened for Alexa developers in the U.S. earlier this month. The news comes a week after Google gave its Assistant six new voices, plans for an Assistant voice with singer John Legend, and the debut of Duplex, AI that uses WaveNet speech synthesis to generate a human-sounding voice that makes reservations or schedules appointments over the phone. No word yet on when Alexa will get more voice options or the ability to give users the choice to speak with a male or female voice.