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Roger Ebert Unveils New 'Voice' to His Wife on Oprah

Leave it to Oprah to bring a tear to our eye. On her show yesterday, film critic Roger Ebert, who recently lost his voice to thyroid and jaw cancer, sampled his brand new and remarkably realistic voice synthesizer. With his wife by his side, Ebert speaks for the first time with his new voice module, and admits, "It still needs improvement, but at least it sounds like me." As you can see in the video clip from after the jump, he controls the voice by typing in what he wants to say. His text is then translated to speech with the help of spliced sound bytes that doctors have collected from archival audio of Ebert's original voice.

As we reported last week, the company behind the new technology is Scotland-based CereProc, whom Ebert approached after stumbling upon them online. As chief technical officer Dr. Matthew Aylett tells NPR, he and his team were able to better capture Ebert's vocal naturalism by combining human sounds instead of full words, which they were able to sample due to Ebert's massive collection of vocal recordings. While the English language contains thousands upon thousands of words, English-speaking voices use only about 45 basic sounds. By rearranging this set of sounds, CereProc has managed to imbue their artificial voices with very real-sounding emotion.

By Aylett's own admission, there's still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to replicating something as aurally complex as human intonation. Though CereProc has introduced a radical new technological approach to creating synthetic voices, Aylett is careful to point out that voices like Ebert's are "not just a cool piece of technology." The human voice, as he says, truly "represents what we are as people." In Roger Ebert's case, it symbolizes that, and so much more. After having gone silent for far too long, Ebert and his voice are reunited -- and, apparently, are just as lively as ever. Ebert tells his wife, "In first grade, they said I talked too much. And now I still can." [From: CBS News and NPR; via: BusinessInsider]

Tags: cereproc, oprah, roger ebert, RogerEbert, synthetic voice, SyntheticVoice, text-to-speech, top, viral, voice

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