What? Me Worry?
"Hi, I'm Albert Einstein and I never worry about anything. That's because I'm a genius. Ever wonder how I got that way? Let me tell you about Feldman's IQ-PLUS line of Mental Enhancement Products..."
Chuck McFadden The Menace
of Familiar Voices
It's Here! They now can clone
any human voice in history!
By CHUCK McFADDEN
LAST CHRISTMAS SEASON, as my wife and I wandered through the stores, we heard the voice of Bing Crosby, singing White Christmas. So did you, probably. Warm, vibrant--there was Der Bingle, dead nearly a quarter of a century.
Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Perry Como--you can hear these deceased singers every day because they made many records. Coles daughter and some ingenious electrical engineers even put together a record where she and her long-dead dad sing together.
Modern entertainers dont die. They just continue under a different contract.
What prompted these musings about ghost voices is the fact that AT&T has come up with something really eerie: Voice cloning.
You use material culled from recordings, and with software AT&T is developing, its going to be possible to have any voice ever recorded say anything. The computer-recreated voice of John Kennedy says what you want it to say, even if the real JFK never said it. The cloned voice, working from printed text, will sound just like him.
You want Sinatra to do the message on your home answering machine? No problem. If you prefer, you could have William Jennings Bryan, or Enrico Caruso. Maybe FDR.
Mind-boggling though it may be to technological morons such as yours truly, voice cloning is probably no more than another step along a well-established technological path. After all, weve had photographs, movies, holographs, television and tape recordings for decades. On some screen somewhere in the world, Gary Cooper is still striding down that dusty High Noon street.
Whether AT&T is taking us into a new dimension is debatable. Whats not debatable is that there are lots of implications here that are fun to speculate about.
Take historians, for instance. It would have been technologically possible for an underhanded historian in 1885 to accurately fake Lincolns handwriting and have him declaring all kinds of things on paper. As far as we know, all of Lincolns surviving written material is genuine, but with this new software, could a future underhanded historian have Ronald Reagan saying Pol Pot was a fine fella? Would anyone believe it? Two or five centuries from now, whos to know? We have a debate today about whether Shakespeare really wrote all the plays credited to him.
It may be that to determine whats real and whats not, well have to establish some as-yet-uninvented test or standard of veracity that doesnt depend on malleable technology.
Then theres show biz.
Some worry that if were able to voice clone the very best, theyll crowd out the very good. No more work for those anonymous voice-over announcers when you can have Dwight Eisenhower.
"Yes, it's me: Winnie Churchill,
former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and I'm seriously peeved.
I phoned for an appointment at Mimi's House of Curls...and learned they're booked up for weeks! But I want you to know I'll press on to victory. I'll fight them in the...."
Remember, the software allows you to have any voice thats ever been recorded say anything. It can be infinitely tailored to suit differing needs. Local radio announcers wont do commercials for local hardware stores any more. Albert Einstein will. Or maybe Tom Hanks. Winston Churchill plugs Mimis House of Curls.
Along with radio stations, telephone software companies will contract with Amalgamated VoiceClones, Inc., for whatever they need. Pick up the phone, dial POPCORN, and Ethel Barrymore will give you the time at the tone.
In a way, its already happened. The technology of movies, radio and television spread the very best actors and comedians across the nation. Before them, an actor could reach--what?--maybe 3,000 people in a big house? You had to have lots of actors in lots of theaters to reach 10 million people. Many actors were employed. Today, Brad Pitt does it all by himself, and there go the careers and livelihoods of 9,999 pretty good actors.
Audiences get the very best; Pitt makes pots of money; Jay Leno makes it on television and comedians who are good, but not great, struggle along in small clubs for a few years before they give it up and become plumbers. (Then they start making what Pitt makes.)
An actor turns in a sub-par movie performance? Aw, he just cloned it in.
Harry Truman endorses John McCain for president. Hit piece in 2007: Benito Mussolini endorses your opponent. (Mother Teresa endorses you. Some voters would believe it.)
Excerpt from new Mars colony real estate TV spot:
"Say, Bob, check out these new residential lots in the north sector of Canal #9. It's your chance to do Palm Springs all over again! How does that hit song of mine go, 'Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above...'"
And so on and on. You create limitless possibilities when you combine the arts, politics and technology.
We have a handful of celebrities already who have been around hundreds, if not thousands, of years--Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Socrates. But now weve turned up the volume.
Do you suppose that someday long after were gone, Bing Crosbys mellifluous pipes will be selling home sites on Mars?
© 2001 by Charles M. McFadden. The illustrations are from IMSI's Master/Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. East, San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
Chuck McFadden is a former reporter. He is always available to do voice-overs for worthwhile products like hemmorhoid ointments.
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