If you’ve been saving up to integrate Shaq’s voice into your Alexa devices, you’ve officially blown it. Amazon is ditching all of its Alexa-enabled celebrity voices, including Shaquille O’Neal, Melissa McCarthy and, say it ain't so, Samuel L. Jackson. The distinct voice options will no longer be available for purchase and will no longer function even if you made a purchase a while back, as reported by The Verge.
That brings us to the topic of refunds, and it looks like there won’t be any. This isn’t earth-shattering news, as the voice options launched for just $1 before moving up to $5 in recent months. Still, buying something and having it vaporize into nothing is never fun for consumers. All is not lost, however, as Amazon told Engadget it'll process refunds upon request.
"After three years, we’re winding down celebrity voices. Customers will be able to continue using these voices for a limited time, and can contact our customer service team for a refund," wrote a spokesperson for the company.
Samuel L. Jackson is leaving any day now, with an official announcement on the purchase page indicating the feature will officially stop working next week. Melissa McCarthy and Shaq will function until sometime in September.
To the uninitiated, this feature was an add-on for Alexa that transformed its usual chirpy tones into that of a celebrity. This was all fairly limited when compared to Alexa’s full feature set, as the celebs won’t do reminders and don’t integrate with many skills. They do, however, tell jokes, answer questions and complete simple voice-assisted tasks. The service started with Jackson in 2019 but extended to include Shaq and McCarthy shortly thereafter.
So why did Amazon shut the feature down? Alexa’s no longer the hottest thing in the universe and the company’s hardware division recently laid off thousands of people involved with designing and manufacturing Echo speakers, so that could be part of it. Again, the feature set with these voices was on the anemic side, so maybe not enough people bought them to offset the licensing costs. Finally, there’s the AI elephant in the room. Reports indicate that Amazon is building its own large language model (LLM) like ChatGPT to radically transform Alexa, and celebrity voices may no longer fit into that vision.
Update, May 30th, 2023, 2:50 PM ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.