artificial intelligence, audiobook, DeepZen, lauren williams, meteor mags, Patches, robot, science fiction, short story
The robots are reading! An old friend of mine who produces audio recordings for the visually impaired recently posted a Wall Street Journal article about DeepZen, a company that samples professional voice actors and narrators to create robot voices that produce audiobooks.
You might know I’ve produced three short audiobooks entirely on my own, but it was a time-consuming and challenging task even for someone with years of experience reading in public, engineering radio broadcasts, and recording my own music. And in the end, I thought the results were just okay, because I was so focused on the technical details and enunciating clearly that the readings themselves lack a bit of emotion.
So I thought, “What the heck? Let’s give the robots a shot at the hard work!” I chose the DeepZen voice of Lauren Williams—who has a British accent—and sent her a trial run of two short episodes from The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches. After all, the series features female characters using slang from the UK and Australia, and profanities inspired by the classical pirates from England. Maybe Lauren could lend the proper space-pirate vibe to Mags’ outbursts such as “Curse me for a bloody papist!”
Now you can judge robotic Lauren’s performance for yourself. Below are the links to audio files you can listen to in your browser or download like digital pirates, absolutely free of charge. The first story is Reborn, where Mags sets up a genetics lab to resurrect some of her freaky space pets whose DNA she preserved. The second is Solo Tour, where the paths of Mags, a murderous cyborg, and one of her teenage fans violently intersect.
Click Here to Listen to Reborn.
Mars Will Send No More said:
Robot Lauren only made a few inaccuracies. If I had paid for the more expensive service tier, I’d be able to request corrections. But I paid for the $69/hour automated service to test its accuracy.
What wasn’t quite right? First, due to sentence construction, Lauren is occasionally unclear that “Mags” is a name and not a plural noun. Second — and I can see why this would be tricky for a robot — Lauren made the wrong choice on three words with vowel sounds that can be pronounced two ways to give two different meanings: “live”, “bass”, and “lead”. Third, Lauren doesn’t realize the second G in “GravGens” is a soft G as in “generator”. Finally, I’m not sure she’s wrong about the pronunciation of Mags’ ship, the Bêlit. Lauren says it like “bell-it”, while I say it more like “bay-leet”, because that’s how I heard a narrator say it in a reading of Robert E. Howard’s Queen of the Black Coast.
Would it be worth paying nearly double the price to correct these minor mis-steps? I’d think so if I were producing an entire audiobook to sell commerically. But considering this was a fully automated process with zero input from me, Robot Lauren did a bang-up job proving DeepZen can produce a solid reading.
[Update] Based on the emails I got about this post, Robot Lauren’s reading is both “not bad” and absolutely “terrifying”. I totally agree.
Also, someone pointed out that having a robotic woman talk about the cyborg crushing Tomothy’s throat was “delightfully ironic” yet “better than having Liam Neeson read the same thing”. Again, I totally agree. Someone should have Robot Lauren read a story about a violent robot uprising told in first-person voice from a robot’s perspective. A delightfully british yet unequivocally murderous robot.
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