What do voice technology and VocalID mean to you?

As a voice over actor, the ability to convey an idea through the use of my voice ranks pretty high on the list of things I consider of paramount importance in my everyday life. The only other items topping the list being my wife and family.

If you have ever screamed your lungs out at a concert, chances are you remember sounding like Miranda Richardson in 1998’s “Merlin” the morning after. The majority of us rarely acknowledge how vital our vocal apparatuses are to our state of being. Just ask yourself this question:

“Where will I be today, if I did not have my voice?”

It took a “Queen Mab” moment for me to stop and think “Gee… this sucks. Good thing it’s only temporary.”

Now imagine a scenario where your voice is permanently damaged due to illness or disease. Or worse still, lost as the result of a traumatizing accident, both physical and/or psychological.

In 2016 I overheard an interview with Tasia Valenza, who spoke about an organization called VocalID, and how advancements in technology are helping to bring voices to the speech impaired.

Just having made the transition from data analyst to full time mic abuser, I decided to give the VocalID website a go. A chance to make a difference while polishing my craft, and at the same time contributing to the community, sounded like a worthwhile cause.

Once there, I ended up staying because of several reasons.

The first one of these being that I love to read, duh! The site won me over by serving out a range of stories, which I would otherwise probably never have discovered. From old classics to modern TED Talks, the reads on there cover pretty much any taste. At the end of each passage, readers are presented with the option to up-vote or down-vote what they’ve just read. This process makes stories of the type you fancy pop up more often than the ones you don’t.

The second reason why I enjoy spending time on VocalID, is that it is as casual as it can possibly be, while remaining tremendously useful. The site is intuitive, it’s easy to set up an account, and you can contribute as much (or as little) as you want, as often as your schedule allows. Every little session counts. Sentences are automatically saved and added to the voicebank, where they are later broken down into their base acoustic components. It is these latter sounds that the VocalID tech-magicians use to piece together new and diverse digital voices.

Knowing that the work you do on the site may one day change the life of a stranger in need – someone whom you’ll probably never get to meet, whose life will be made that much better because of your contribution – is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the VocalID experience.

To play the Devil’s advocate, when talking about this type of contribution, one question always seems to find its way into the discussion.

“Aren’t you shooting yourself in the leg by helping to bring computerized voices closer to the real thing?”

I’ve heard this concern voiced on a couple of occasions from friends and colleagues. I used to hear the same arguments – that computers would take over the business and leave us on street corners – back in 2008, when I was fighting for my Bachelor’s in Translation and Interpreting. Back then the hype around CAT (Computer Aided Translation) was a big thing, and some classmates were losing their minds over how obsolete their degrees will be in a decade or so. Well, it’s 2018, and although CAT has certainly come a long way over the past 10 years, the tech is in no way even remotely close to matching the purely human element of a skilled interpreter. I believe the same holds true for the future of authentic voice over as compared to text-to-speech software.

Will AI and voice technology effectively replace human narration in the years to come? I guess that depends on how one is willing to interpret the meaning of “effectively”.

Will that deter me from potentially helping give voice to a person who has had the gift of speech taken away from them? Not in your wildest dreams.

The platform’s latest version has a leveling system, which allows one to track how many sentences an account has “banked”. For the most competitive of contributors, there’s even the option of having a “total time spent recording” certificate printed out, for one to share on LinkedSpace, FaceIn, or whatever the cool kids are using nowadays.

You too can make your contribution to the VocalID voicebank, and help enrich the digital voice library, by heading over to vocalid.co. Registration is absolutely free. The recording process is private, and does not require fancy tech, nor previous experience to start pitching in.

Have you tried VocalID? What’s your take on voice technology? Feel free to stir up a discussion in the comment section below.

Header Image Source: Information Age

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