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Terminator: At Least Cyborgs Enunciate

Science Not FictionBy Stephen CassSeptember 24, 2008 3:36 AM


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Ever since the first Terminator movie in 1984, Terminator cyborgs have had the ability to duplicate the voice of any given human they hear, an ability deployed again in last night episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, when our plucky band of heroes has its cell phones intercepted. It's not so far fetched -- pretty much this exact scenario has been worrying real security researchers for some time. In 1997, Australian researchers developed a system that could fool automated voice verification systems that authenticate users based on their voiceprint. By 2001, our future-overlord-enablers at AT&T had created software called Natural Voices that could copy any human voice. The current non-killing-machine value of this type of software is for realistic text-to-speech applications—for instance the ability to listen to emails using a cell phone, without that note from your Aunt Jemima sounding like it comes from a Dalek, or for use with the screen readers that visually impaired people use with their computers. Combined with speech recognition systems, speech synthesis already allows some automatic language translation applications -- in the future, the addition of the ability to mimic a given voice could allow you to conduct, say, a conservation in real time over the telephone in which your speech is translated into another language in your own voice. Going beyond sneaky terminators, this would be something like a basic version of the universal translators many sci-fi shows use to get over the awkward fact that all the aliens seem to speak perfect, if somewhat North-American accented, english...

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