Can you imagine not being able to speak, to say hello, to tell someone you love them, to ask for your basic needs? For many children and adults this is their reality, and according to a recent article on NPR they are being given a voice for the first time in their lives thanks to advancements in technology and scientific research!
If you don’t have a voice, who speaks for you? For those needing a “voice” there are many devices (more than 60 options) that have text to speech or digital recording outputs. For many children and adults these voices can sound artificial or disjointed. In fact, for the majority of the people using a voice output they use “perfect paul” which is a voice so widely used that adults, children, males and females use the voice to be understood. Studies have shown that his voice is easiest to understand in a variety of situations, including classrooms and public outdoor spaces. Still, some in the community of people who rely on synthetic voices have found the Perfect Paul version frustrating due to its limitations.
Researcher Patel decided to find an alternative to “Perfect Paul” to create a more individualized voice for users. With over seven years of research, Patel found a way to give children without a voice a more personalized synthetic voice. All she needs the children to do is say a sound like ahhhhh, and then the real magic begins.
Patel takes the sound, runs it through a computer and finds out how that person would sound if that person could speak words. She then takes recordings from typically developing children and uses their language samples to collect a large number of words. She then combines that sample words with the pitch, breathiness and other characteristics of the child with the voice disorder. And viola, she’s created a unique, personalized voice for that individual. Personalized voices like these aren’t yet available to everyone. Patel has figured out how to do it, but not how to make it work on all of the different electronic devices that people use to play a synthetic voice. The exciting news is that there is now hope for the future.