With the proliferation of voice-activated home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo, soon we’ll be sitting in our living rooms verbally directing robots to complete mundane household tasks. But what voice do we want responding to our orders to dim the lights? Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is working on a new AI that will talk back in the voice of God. Or at least someone who played him once in a movie: Morgan Freeman.
As Fast Company first reported, over the past year, Zuckerberg personally built the new home assistant, named Jarvis:
Over the last year, though, Zuckerberg has spent between 100 and 150 hours on his home project. Though it's named for Tony Stark’s futuristic Jarvis AI in the Iron Man movies, it's more akin to a homemade, highly personal version of something like Amazon’s Alexa service, letting him and his wife Priscilla Chan use a custom iPhone app or a Facebook Messenger bot to turn lights on and off, play music based on personal tastes, open the front gate for friends, make toast, and even wake up their one-year-old daughter Max with Mandarin lessons.
A few months ago, when Zuckerberg publicly asked who should replace Jarvis’s synthetic voice, Robert Downey Jr. volunteered to voice Jarvis, as long as Paul Bettany, who voiced Jarvis in the Iron Man films, got a cut, and the money went to a charity picked by co-star Benedict Cumberbatch (although, let’s be honest here, most of us would much rather have Benedict Cumberbatch our living rooms).
After a year of coding, here's Jarvis.Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, December 20, 2016
However, the people—that is, thousands of commenters on Zuckerberg’s original post—demanded Freeman. Which is not too far-fetched, actually, as the actor recently lent his voice to Waze. Zuckerberg asked, and he said yes. No word yet if this will someday be part of a publicly available smart home app built by Facebook, but one can dream.
While Freeman’s smooth, golden-throated delivery would certainly be welcome in my home, I’m not sure it’s the ideal AI voice for me. I want someone who doesn’t sound so all-knowing—someone who might be less judgmental of my inability to make my bed. I think my house would be better served by the chirpy, sarcastic enthusiasm of a comedian—like Kate McKinnon or Kristin Wiig, perhaps. Someone who would be programmed to crack jokes about the sorry contents of my refrigerator.
Who would you want to be the voice of your smart home? Or is Freeman’s deep baritone just right?