Adobe has just demonstrated new software that lets you remix someone’s speech and have them say in their own voice whatever you type. Cue immediate ethical concerns. Apparently it only needs about twenty minutes of your recorded speech to be able to do that. Software release is not imminent but you can see the proof of concept in the video below. Recommend you tune in at 2:00 and opt out at 5:00.
Now obviously, this compromises the integrity of voice identification and it’ll be disruptive. Nonetheless, we are going to have a lot of fun with it. Every school teacher will become a voice puppet for their students. Every kid will be able to read Shakespeare. You’ll re-voice your boss into saying sensible things.
We’ll use it to improve our memory (‘Adobe: let me hear myself sing Ave Maria a few times so I can pick up the words’) and improve learning (‘explain Byzantine Fault Tolerance again but in Marilyn Monroe’s voice’). Its impact on AI, popular culture and the economy will be significant. Yes, content costs will be reduced but also, 600,000 people in call centres in India and the Philippines are about to get English accents.
You’ll hear Trump speak Obama’s words and vice versa. Satire and polemics will feed on it, chasing us with whatever shocks, frightens, appeals to our prejudices or amuses us. So nothing new there.
Our whole culture developed around the authority of ‘word’. But our relationship to our word has weakened as media has strengthened. The more mediated the communication, the less accountable we are for doing what we say we will – compare a promise made face-to-face to an intention written on Facebook. Adobe Voco will be a new layer of mediation. The spoken word will continue to lose authority in the digital realm, but gain extra significance in the real world.
This technology will further undermine the importance of ‘word’. We are already reluctant to make promises and hold ourselves to account for what we said we’d do.
I struggle and fail in this every day. And the more I pretend what I did was ‘good enough’ or justifiable, the more I avoid the truth and protect my reputation, and the LAST thing I want to do in that state is make a new promise. So I’ll drift into the next day without making any promises and have nothing at stake. Lunacy.
I’m promising to make more promises. In the real world, where they count.