Amazon is reportedly working on a voice print system for use in its popular lineup of Alexa-powered speakers. When implemented, the virtual assistant would be able to distinguish between individual users based on the sound of their voice.
The Seattle-based technology giant has been developing a feature that would allow the voice assistant that powers its Echo line of speakers to distinguish between individual users based on their voices, according to people familiar with Amazon’s Alexa strategy. The sources declined to be identified by name because they are not authorized to talk about the company’s future product plans. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
TIME’s sources say the new feature would work by matching a person’s voice to to a pre-recorded sample, called a “voice print,” to verify the speaker’s identity. A primary account holder would be able to require a certain voice print to access certain commands.
A user would, for example, be able to set it so that a parent’s voice would be required to make a credit card purchase or turn on the coffee machine through the Echo.
Amazon is said to have been working on this feature since the summer of 2015. The report says the underlying technology is complete, and simply needs to be integrated into the Echo, Dot, and Tap smart speakers. No date for the integration was given by the report.
Technology of this type would be a first in the virtual assistant “smart speaker” marketplace. While Echo users can currently set up multiple user profiles and switch between them, the user must either switch by saying “switch accounts” or by using the Alexa app. Credit card purchases are authorized by speaking a four digit passcode.
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Voice prints would avoid reported cases of children ordering items which are only discovered upon delivery.
Adding Voice ID could make the experience of sharing an Echo with multiple family members or roommates more seamless. It may also prevent scenarios like the one Megan Neitzel found herself in this past January, when she was unaware that her six-year-old daughter Brooke ordered an expensive doll house and a four-pound cookie tin until it arrived at her home. Beyond shopping and authentication, giving Alexa knowledge about who is speaking may allow it to play music that’s more closely aligned to a specific user’s tastes.
At this point, it isn’t known if the new Voice ID system would roll out to the numerous Alexa-powered third-party devices, or if the feature will be exclusive to Amazon’s own Echo, Dot, and Tap speakers. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.