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The Rise of the Robo-Voices


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Artist's conception of an original voice converted into multiple languages by technology.

Companies are using artificial intelligence to create human-like voices from samples of a living actors voice, models that not only can sound like specific performers, but can speak any language, cry, scream, laugh, even talk with their mouths full.

Credit: Taylor Callery

The next time you see a movie or TV show that was dubbed from a foreign language, the voices you hear may not belong to actors who rerecorded dialogue in a sound booth. In fact, they may not belong to actors at all.

Highly sophisticated digital voice manufacturing is coming, and entertainment executives say it could bring a revolution in sound as industry-changing as computer graphics were for visuals. New companies are using artificial intelligence to create humanlike voices from samples of a living actor's voice—models that not only can sound like specific performers, but can speak any language, cry, scream, laugh, even talk with their mouths full. At the same time, companies are refining the visual technology so actors look like they are really speaking.

As streaming services export American fare globally and foreign markets send their hits to the U.S., dubbing is a bigger business than ever. But the uses of synthetic voices extend well beyond localizing foreign films. AI models can provide youthful voices for aging actors. The technology can resurrect audio from celebrities who have died or lost the ability to speak. And it can tweak dialogue in postproduction without the need for actors.

All the tinkering raises thorny ethical questions. Where is the line between creating an engrossing screen experience and fabricating an effect that leaves audiences feeling duped?

From The Wall Street Journal
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