Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Donating your voice can change a life

You know how Stephen Hawking talks through a machine with a synthesized voice? Millions of people around the world rely on similar technology, but that means that women, little girls and millions of others use the same masculine, adult, American-accented voice (I think there's also a female one, but still). Recently a company called VocaliD developed a way to pair an individual with a voice that closely matches their natural one. It requires a sample of the recipient's voice and the voice recordings of a donor who matches the recipient's age, size and vocal quality. VocaliD is currently building a voice bank for the millions of people who need individualized, synthesized voices, which means they need millions of voice donors from all over the world, people of different ages, sizes, voice pitches, languages and accents. Will you help?

VocaliD is facing an incredible task and it's doing it with:
  • Voice-blending technology
  • Donors who submit samples of their voices for the voice bank (for free, there's no payment involved)
  • Scientists and designers who blend a donor's and a recipient's voices until they have a completely unique voice that will be used only by the person for whom it was created (no one will be walking around with your voice, it doesn't work that way)
  • A website that makes it easy to submit samples of your voice.
It's a way to help others without having to give anything but a few hours of time, and you don't even have to leave your home! Plus it's a way to live forever because your voice can be used to help countless people.

I signed up and spent an hour and a half reading sentences into the microphone on my laptop computer. It's best to give three to four hours of speaking time, but you don't have to do it all at once. You need a computer with a microphone and the website says the Chrome browser works best, but I managed to do it with Firefox.

Upon registration I entered my gender, age, height and weight. After I read a few sentences, I was prompted to answer questions such as where I live (Chicago), where else I've lived (California) and what kind of accent people tell me I have (none). A question asked for one word that I'd use to describe my voice (I chose "soothing"). Then it was back to reading sentences. They started out very simple like Thank you and This is my new voice and I love you. They got more complicated as it went on, including statements like Food Network is crushing it with the kid chef shows. Then the sentences began to form little stories. The statement I enjoyed enunciating the most was I owe you a yo-yo.

Eventually it became clear that the sentences had been lifted from works of literature and at one point they alternated between novels. I think a Louisa May Alcott/Jack London mashup produced this sequence (earlier some of the sentences had included wolves and the names "Jo" and "Meg"):

A lady is always known by her neat boots.
He touched her with his muzzle.

Don't shake hands if you are introduced to anyone.
He ran with his head even.
She could not move about and amuse herself.

The pack formation would have been broken up.

And the sentence I said with the most relish and force: Kids don't belong.

I'm grateful that the hours of recording don't have to all be done at once because my voice gave out after an hour and a half. The website states that even one hour of recording helps, but I'll go back in and do more. I enjoyed it.

Does the idea of donating blood make you squeamish? Do you never have any money to give to good causes? Do mobility or transportation issues make you unable to volunteer outside of your home? Do you nevertheless want to make a difference in the life of a stranger? Donate your voice. The video below shows how big a difference you can make (it's just a minute and a half long). After you watch it, go to VocaliD and become immortal!


Monica said...

I love this idea! The ability to volunteer is short spurts is like volunteering for Project Gutenburg (which I need to get back to). And something that will really help people.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Monica, what's Project Gutenburg?