Believing that the selection of the right voice for Alexa was critical, Hart and colleagues spent months reviewing the recordings of various candidates that GM Voices produced for the project, and presented the top picks to Bezos. The Amazon team ranked the best ones, asked for additional samples, and finally made a choice. Bezos signed off on it. Characteristically secretive, Amazon has never revealed the name of the voice artist behind Alexa. I learned her identity after canvasing the professional voice-over community: Boulder, Colorado–based voice actress and singer Nina Rolle. Her professional website contains links to old radio ads for products such as Mott’s Apple Juice and the Volkswagen Passat—and the warm timbre of Alexa’s voice is unmistakable. Rolle said she wasn’t allowed to talk to me when I reached her on the phone in February 2021. When I asked Amazon to speak with her, they declined.
The Apple and Epic Games court case is literally bananas
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Witness this recent exchange on Monday, as recorded by the Verge, during day six of the courtroom hearings. Displaying an image of the squad-selection screen in Epic’s hit video game Fortnite, one of Apple’s lawyers pointed out one character. “And we have a large yellow banana here, don’t we? In a tuxedo?” the attorney asked. “Yes. That is Peely,” replied Matthew Weissinger, Epic’s head of marketing.
Fortnite character Peely, appearing in raw form.
When Peely is dressed in black-tie attire, the fruity fighter is known as “Agent Peely,” the attorney noted. Then Apple’s lawyer took a droll jab: “We thought it better to go with the suit than the naked banana, since we are in federal court this morning.”
You may wonder: Why is a lawyer for the world’s most valuable company—worth more than $2 trillion—lingering on the wardrobe choices of an anthropomorphic banana? Just seeking a bit of levity to lighten up the courtroom? Simply a jokester? No, there is method to the bar-member’s madness.
The reasoning for this apparent digression, oddly, strikes at the heart of the court case. Apple’s lawyer is, wryly, suggesting impropriety on the part of Epic. If Apple can persuade the court that Epic’s editorial standards play too fast and loose, then it can make the case that its buttoned-up curatorial policies in its own App Store are carefully considered, legitimate, and necessary, thereby potentially justifying the high fees it charges on app-based transactions there. What might seem like an off-the-cuff joke speaks volumes, in other words, about the foundation of Apple’s legal defense.
To fully understand the benchside buck-naked banana banter, it helps to consider some context. In an earlier exchange on Friday, an Apple lawyer tried to deal a blow by getting Steve Allison, VP of Epic’s Games Store, to agree that Epic’s app market hosts “offensive and sexualized” material. The exchange centered on itch.io, an indie game store and Epic partner that hosts “adult” content, like the pornographic “Horny Chronicles” and “Sexpool.” (Epic argues that offering access to itch.io is different from putting erotic games directly on its own Game Store.)
Ever sensitive to Apple’s prurient insinuations, Epic did not let slip the banana aside. Later on Monday, an Epic lawyer brought up Apple’s sly stunt in direct examination. “There might have been an implication that to show Peely without a suit would have been inappropriate, do you recall that?” Epic’s lawyer said. “Is there anything inappropriate about Peely without a suit?”
“No there is not,” Weissinger replied. Epic’s lawyer continued, presenting a picture of Peely, “Is there anything inappropriate about Peely without clothes?”
Came Weissinger’s absolutely delicious answer: “It’s just a banana, ma’am.” Get your mind out of the gutter, in other words.
Add Weissinger’s zinger to the list of unforgettable one-liners to spring out of other legal testimonials this year, from “I like the stock” to “I am not a cat.” The exchange calls to mind U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter’s famous, precedent-setting and relevant description of obscenity in the ’60s: “I know it when I see it.” Same goes for comedy.
This is an epic legal battle, indeed. You can count on Data Sheet to keep peeling back the layers on the court case to lay bare its juiciest innards.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. The U.S. is pinning a ransomware attack that targeted Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier of fuel for the east coast U.S., on an Eastern European criminal gang known as DarkSide. Some cybersecurity companies reportedly helped beat back the hackers. But the whole situation has exposed the vulnerability of the energy sector—not to mention other targets—to disruptive cybercrime.
Faceblocked. German regulators have ordered Facebook to stop collecting German users' data within the company's WhatsApp chat unit. The country implemented an emergency three-month ban in response the app's controversial, planned privacy changes, saying "we need to prevent damage and disadvantages linked to such a black-box-procedure.” Meanwhile, 44 state attorneys general are urging Facebook to abandon its plans for a kiddie version of Instagram. Facebook ain't swayed.
Cutting it short. TikTok is moving into e-commerce with plans to test in-app sales in Europe. Like Facebook, the Gen Z-beloved viral video app is keen on expanding its revenue streams from advertising into lucrative online shopping. The streetwear label Hype is a partner on the pilot. Meanwhile, Google just set up a $100 million fund to start paying YouTube Shorts creators in a bid to take on video-rival TikTok.
Far from the tree. Seven Apple suppliers are suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang, China. The accused companies' workforces are said to include incarcerated Uighurs, an oppressed Chinese ethnic minority, the Information reports. Meanwhile, as coronavirus cases surge across India, the iPhone output at a key Indian Foxconn factory has more than halved.
Robucks. Video game maker Roblox reported quarterly earnings on Monday. The company's flagship game surged in popularity during pandemic lockdowns, contributing to a 140% year-over-year increase in revenue to $387 million. Roblox, which went public via a direct listing in March, is still unprofitable, however, and it reported losing $0.46 cents per share in the quarter.
I just don't know about this.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, a new book chronicling the indomitable rise of the e-commerce goliath, comes out today. In a preview published by Wired, Brad Stone, the author and a Bloomberg senior editor, details the story behind the Amazon A.I. assistant Alexa's development. The company is known for its intense secrecy. That characteristic tightlipped-ness is on full display in the excerpt below, in which Stone outs the identity of the actor who lent Alexa her voice.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Sure, Amazon and e-books are amply convenient fonts of reading material. But there is no replacing the thrill of browsing a shelf at an indie book store. Architectural Digest relishes that same experience. The magazine published a tour of the world's "most beloved independent book stores." Stalwarts, like New York's The Strand, make an appearance. But nothing beats Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal.
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