I wanted to see how much I could sound like HAL-9000 in my own irregular rendition of the song bell daisy. Turns out I sound better as a vague approximation of the demented artificial intelligence of 2001: A Space Odyssey than HAL actor Douglas Rain or my normal human voice.
Spanish company Voicemod on Wednesday unveiled its new AI Voices beta product that promotes the use of AI to change the voice while maintaining inflection, emotion and rhythm. The app allows users to recreate a March of the Penguins-esque narration of their colleagues waddling to the bathroom in the voice of god himself (aka Morgan Freeman, the only fiction president who would get my vote). The app also has a voice for a generic male or female, as well as more outlandish voices to make you sound like HAL-9000 or as if your speech was crackling on the radio of an astronaut or an airplane pilot.
Your mileage may vary for speech-to-speech sound transformation. According to our tests, the better the microphone you use, the more accurate your sound will be. This is quite common for this kind of applications. Some voices sounded more natural than others. “Morgan” sounded slightly off, not hitting the famous narrator and actor’s perfect inflections. While they’re both funny, there’s nothing among the voices of astronauts or pilots that would really convince the US Air Force or NASA that you’re coming in for a sudden, unexpected landing. Still, the technology could be good for trolling your friends in voice chat or creating a more efficient tabletop role-playing session.
In a Release Announcing the new feature, Voicemod said the technology is especially useful for streamers, content creators, role-players, or even people in the trans community trying to express themselves online. The company cited the streamer and esports coach/organizer Kairi Caitlynwho said further development of AI voices could benefit “people like me in the trans community”.
This means that the male “Bob” and female “Alice” voices are perhaps the most interesting and potentially important for people trying to express their identity when they appear online. Other startups are also working on AI technology which facilitates the online trans community. Many of these companies, including Voicemod, refer to the nebulous “metaverse” when describing how this technology could be used to create custom avatars. As many companies as Meta want to let you recreate yourself in a virtual world, others would prefer to express their inner selves when creating characters online.
CEO and co-founder Jaime Bosch wrote that the technology “enables a level of customization previously not possible in audio expression online and in the metaverse”. In a statement to Gizmodo, Bosch said he wanted to support the full spectrum of trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, and queer users to “better empower them to build their own unique sonic identities.”
The flip side of this technology is the potential for abuse. The rise in fake deep technology has it in the Politics and technology worlds concerned, although deepfakes still have a long way to go if they want to be more effective than old-fashioned online misinformation. These newer text-to-speech systems probably won’t fool most people, but even Voicemod has recognized that security is a concern. Bosch said they are working on systems to identify if someone is using a synthetic voice.
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