Technology

Listening to E-books to get more Immersive with Author’s AI Voice

Chinese search engine Sogou is creating artificial-intelligence lookalikes to read popular novels in the authors’ voices. It introduced “lifelike” avatars of Chinese language authors Yue Guan and Bu Xin Tian Shang Diao Xian Bing, created from video recordings, at the China On-line Literature+ convention.

Last year, Sogou launched two AI newsreaders, which are still used by the government’s Xinhua news agency.

The trend of and demand for audiobooks is on the rise over the globe, mirroring trends in the West. It is now a simple process to use text-to-speech technology to quickly generate an audio version of a book, using digitised, synthetic voices. But most people prefer audiobooks that are “professionally narrated” by authors, actors or famous public figures.

Chinese think tank iiMedia expects the market to more than double between 2016 and 2020, to 7.8bn Chinese yuan ($1.1billion) a year.

Sogou, Inc. is a public company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2018, Sogou reported net sales of $1.1 billion, net income of $98 million, and reported over $1 billion in cash. Their annual growth rate was 24% over the previous year. In April 2018, Sogou has established an R&D center in Guangzhou, China.

Synthesized voices like those used by Siri and Alexa are fine for telling us the day’s weather forecast or how many minutes remain on a cooking timer, but would you really want their flat, monotonous tones reading you audiobooks? Probably not, that is why most of us turn to a human-voiced audiobook to add a human touch to it.

Advances in machine learning and speech-to-text applied sciences have given a new life to digitised voices technology. For instance, the private company Lyrebird permits users to create customized “vocal avatars” from only a one-minute recording of their voices.

Moreover, a company called DeepZen has developed text-to-speech tools that not only sound human at first listen but can also pick up on the emotional cues needed for reading the text compellingly. In doing so, the company claims that it could reduce the time and cost to produce audiobooks by up to 90%.

So it turns out that pretty much like human intelligence, artificial intelligence (AI) also doesn’t have any limits to it. Although, work like this can be cast as yet another example of cutting-edge A.I. tools threatening a human profession. Especially professions such as voice impressionists and recording artists. Thus it is necessary to be adequately critical and aware of the latest trends in AI. Artificial intelligence technologies will bring about both advances and changes to our economy and daily lives. However, the changes must be tested on parameters like ethicality, morality and its long term effects for mankind.

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