AI Voices: The Evolution of Text-to-Speech Technology

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Just 10 years ago, artificial intelligence was a thing of science fiction movies and dystopian novels – yet now AI is the hottest topic, with machine learning algorithms affecting nearly all aspects of our lives. One of the more spectacular breakthroughs achieved with AI are the strides in text-to-speech technology, allowing us to create emotionally-filled human voices we hear today. How did we even get here?

The beginnings of Text-to-Speech technology

The first semi-successful attempt at synthesizing human speech was done with the “Voder” machine in 1939 developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories. It was a groundbreaking invention for its time, which recreated the acoustic properties of human speech using a series of keys and a foot pedal. The operator could control the pitch and inflection with the pedal and manipulate the keys to generate sounds corresponding to different vowels, consonants, and even hisses – all combined to produce human-like speech.

Operating the Voder was no easy task – it required lots of skill and practice, with operators needing a year of training at minimum to be able to generate anything resembling human speech. All aspects of the output were manually controlled and required finesse to adjust in harmony – something that our vocal folds do effortlessly.

Today, we have access to simple-to-use and very efficient speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology with many popular apps like CapCut – but recreating human voices wasn’t always so easy. Novelty computer-based text-to-speech systems appeared in the late 20th century, but in the beginning they only read text in monotone, very mechanical voice.

Text-to-Speech in the early 21st century

More computing power and more compact devices created promising opportunities for text-to-speech technology. More refined algorithms were starting to appear that could better mimic human voice features, but they still lacked rhythm and emotions. A technique called concatenative synthesis was developed, which used pre-recorded segments of speech to form complete sentences. The fluency was much better than early systems, but they still lacked stress and emotion, and recording and programming the sound bases was very costly.

With these types of systems, the more different sound samples you have, the higher quality speech you’re able to produce. For a smooth and natural voice, massive amounts of sound combinations would be necessary, with each one having to be recorded separately. These limitations are now being ascended with the use of AI technology and deep learning.

How is AI changing Text-to-Speech tech?

Everything changed when artificial intelligence reached a market-ready state. Unlike traditional algorithms, deep learning systems can access much larger quantities of data with ease and generate increasingly natural-sounding speech as they learn the right patterns.

End-to-end text-to-speech systems began to appear around 2016, which could easily transform written word to speech in a matter of minutes and capture subtleties like stress, rhythm, and intonation.

Artificial intelligence can be trained on specific voice samples to mimic a specific person’s voice. This brought previously unimaginable challenges into the text-to-speech world – are AI voices abusing people’s privacy by mimicking their voices? This technology is still new and mostly unregulated, and we’ll have to see how world governments deal with this issue.

AI is revolutionizing much more than text-to-speech technology. Online photo editors like CapCut now offer a range of AI-powered tools that make graphic design simple and easy, allowing you to create all types of visual content in masterwork quality. CapCut’s AI algorithms can easily color correct your photos to create compelling social media posts, remove an unwanted object or person in the background with perfect accuracy, or even transform the whole picture into another vibrant style, like manga or 3D.

How to survive in the AI-dependent future?

AI and progressing automation are drastically changing our lives at an incredible pace. Many jobs that once seemed like safe choices can now be automated – even creating art – and new jobs are being created that take advantage of dexterously navigating this unsteady environment. Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and we’ll have to adapt if we want to thrive in this new world. Embrace learning and always stay updated on industry trends to keep up.

Understanding what AI is and what it isn’t is very important. You don’t necessarily need to be an AI expert, but having a basic understanding of what AI can and can’t do (and how it might impact you personally) will help you better navigate the future. It’s also now more important than ever to learn how to effectively protect your data, keeping as much privacy as possible in a world where data collection is unavoidable.

Deep learning and AI algorithms have revolutionized not only text-to-speech technology – making it almost indistinguishable from human speech – but also many other areas of our lives. Remember to actively engage with AI to better understand the technology that will shape the upcoming world, and vocally advocate for ethical AI use.