New Technology Helps Roger Ebert Speak Again

Technology
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Photo by bjmcdonald

In 2002, acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert was diagnosed with throat cancer, and surgical complications caused him to lose his voice as well as his ability to eat and drink. After spending so many years voicing his highly respected opinions on “At The Movies,” Ebert was forced to resort to pen and paper to communicate. Even after multiple corrective surgeries, doctors were unable to restore the Roger Ebert voice that we had all grown to know.

Now, hope has been restored due to a new technology developed by a Scottish company, CereProc. CereProc was able to develop a computer program that mimicked Ebert’s natural voice nearly exactly. Through watching hours of “At The Movies” commentary, CereProc programmed Ebert’s voice into a computer model that now allows Ebert to speak and sound exactly like himself again. All Ebert has to do is type what he wants to say into a computer, and the voice will speak his words with intonation and the natural nuances we all expect.

While the new voice isn’t perfect, it’s much better than the previous voices Ebert has been forced to live with. Originally, Ebert had to settle for a program he had found on his Mac that read off the words he typed. Since he lost his voice, Ebert has been using a voice named “Alex” through this Apple software he found. He liked this technology because he argued that this was the only program that had understood his punctuation and infused any emotion and inflection into his sentences.

Ebert still wasn’t happy with this voice, however, and as any person would, he wanted to hear the sounds he had become heard his whole life coming out of his mouth. He contacted CereProc, and they immediately began to develop a program that could imitate his old voice. On March 2, Ebert appeared on Oprah to premiere his voice developed by CereProc. Matthew Aylett, the chief technical officer at CereProc, has stated that Ebert is the first person to receive his old voice back in this way.

On their website, CereProc argues that their voice programs fight the common yet obvious problem with computerized voices: they sound mechanical. CereProc’s technology replaces current voices available on Macs and PCs in order to reduce the mechanical sound of the computerized voices and allow you to customize your voice as much as possible.

If interested, you can visit the CereProc website to listen to demos of other voices that have been developed: http://www.cereproc.com/products/Mac_OSX_voices. Through these demos, you can make your own sentence and see how the punctuation affects the way that the computer says your sentence. It is interesting to experiment with the different accents available including Irish English, Black Country, and American.