Photoshopped Voices, Now With Less Data And More AI

These Lyrebird people haven’t yet reached Adobe VoCo levels of voice fakery, but they’re getting there. And though their aim is to sell their technology to companies whose products include speech synthesis, once it’s widely available, the implications are quite similar.

What you’re listening to is a Lyrebird generated Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talking about the company. Right now they sound quite low quality and computer generated, but with the arguable exception of Hillary it isn’t hard to figure out which voices those are. And though it may be tempting to write that sample off as digitized garbage and move on, it’s worth keeping in mind that those voices are as close to the genuine article as they are after the use of voice samples under a minute long as opposed to the 20 minutes required by VoCo.

This is all made by possible through the use of artificial neural networks, which function in a manner similar to the biological neural networks in the human brain. Essentially, the algorithm learns to recognize patterns in a particular person’s speech, and then reproduce those patterns during simulated speech.

“We train our models on a huge dataset with thousands of speakers,” Jose Sotelo, a team member at Lyrebird and a speech synthesis expert, told Gizmodo. “Then, for a new speaker we compress their information in a small key that contains their voice DNA. We use this key to say new sentences.”
The end result is far from perfect—the samples still exhibit digital artifacts, clarity problems, and other weirdness—but there’s little doubt who is being imitated by the speech generator. Changes in intonation are also discernible. Unlike other systems, Lyrebird’s solution requires less data per speaker to produce a new voice, and it works in real time. The company plans to offer its tool to companies in need of speech synthesis solutions.
“We are currently raising funds and growing our engineering team,” said Sotelo. “We are working on improving the quality of the audio to make it less robotic, and we hope to start beta testing soon.”

The Bank Just Figured Out How To Get You To Like It More. A Dancing Robot


Should you find yourself both in Calgary and in need of a bank, there’s a chance you could be greeted by…that thing.

ATB Financial has teamed up with SoftBank Robotics America to unleash Pepper, a friendly 3-wheeled robot designed to make the banking experience better or something. They say that she is capable of recognizing human emotions (that ought to be fun) and that her purpose is to “draw more people into the bank and provide them with a fun and engaging experience that keeps them coming back.”

Alrighty.

Pepper’s interactions will be fairly basic at first.
The three-wheeled robot will be able to dance, recommend products and services, pose for selfies and interact with people via a mounted touch screen tablet, or verbally in several different languages.

I like how they just sorta slip recommend products and services in there between all the pictures and the dancing and the interactivity.

Why is this happening? Why is the bank becoming an arcade with ads? That’s because the company’s research (Research I say!) has shown that people think banks kinda suck.

ATB Financial says it partnered with SoftBank Robotics America after customer research found many people carry a lack of trust and high levels of discomfort in dealing with the banking industry.

“We found out that there’s some people who don’t really love banking, and don’t love coming into banks,” Boga said. “We want to bring happiness to people using banking.”

You know what would make people happy about the bank? Being honest and fair with them and not dinging the everloving bejeezling shit out of them on every transaction, you motherfuckers! Or you could let them take selfies with a commercial slinging robot that knows their names. Whatever works.

“Wait wait wait…what’d you just say, Steve?”

Well, I was about to say that option two sounds a lot like something somebody who just “found out” that a not insignificant number of folks believe that dealing with giant financial institutions traverses the universe in search of new dicks to suck would do, but I get the sense you’re wondering about something else.

“Yes, we are. What was that thing about our names?”

Oh that.

Yes, eventually the plan is that Pepper will know everything in order to shill more efficiently.

But ATB has hinted that Pepper’s functionality could eventually be expanded by connecting it to an artificially intelligent system. This would allow the robot to perform biometric authentication via the camera installed in its head, making it possible for Pepper to address customers by name and provide them with personalized banking recommendations based on their stored customer information.

You know, that personal, one-on-one service in every bank commercial you’ve ever seen.

The company insists that Pepper is not intended to replace human jobs, but rather to allow the human staff to engage on a more personal level with customers. As for what exactly that means, you’ve got me. A bit of small talk and some attempted upselling pretty well sums up every meeting with a bank human I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure what’s left. And now that I think about it, none of them have ever done a little dance and taken a picture with me at the end, so advantage robot.

If I were a banking human I just got a wee bit nervous, and I may have also signed up for some dance classes and photography lessons on my way home. You know, so I’ll at least have the smallest snowball’s chance of keeping that job I’m totally not being automated out of.

Her Text Said Sure, I’ll Drop In In A Minute

So much for the older the wiser, and for the it’s only young folks that spend their lives glued to their phones not paying attention stereotype.

First it was the 80-year-old man plowing into a police car that was on a distracted driving patrol, and now a 67-year-old woman has fallen six feet down an open sidewalk maintenance hatch.

Surveillance video captured the moment a woman in Plainfield glanced down at her cell phone before she tripped over open sidewalk doors and fell six feet into the space beneath them.
According to Plainfield police, units responded just after 12 p.m. on Thursday to the area in front of Acme Windows on Somerset Street on report of a woman injured.
There police found the 67-year-old woman, who they removed from the space beneath the open doors.

She was taken to hospital with what were only described as serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Odd little side note: Both of these cases come from New Jersey. Coincidence? Or are the elderly mental defectives there more tech savvy than the ones in the rest of the country?

Sendero Wants To Know What You Would Like Out Of An Indoor Wayfinding App

It’s really nice to see GPS app makers start to focus on indoor navigation. If you’re blind I doubt I have to tell you that getting around in giant buildings can sometimes be its own special brand of pain in the ass, so being able to use the same apps that work so well outside inside is going to be pretty great as the technology improves.

Welcome to Sendero’s user survey. This study is part of a two-year project in which Sendero and partners are attempting to develop an indoor wayfinding application.  The project, entitled, an Accessible Environmental Information Application for Individuals with Visual Impairments, is funded by a federal grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), (grant number 90BISB0003-01-00).  The Project PI is Dr. Paul Ponchillia.
The survey may be completed in the comfort of your own home, at your leisure. The survey will include 27 questions about challenges, barriers, technology, access to information, and general user needs input for independently navigating indoor facilities. The survey will be used to assess two things: (1) the perceived barriers of indoor orientation and navigation through a series of questions such as: What information should it provide? What are some of the value-added features? And (2) preferred delivery of information, specifically in output of information (tactile, verbal or audio) and exact phrasing of information. How should the device provide information to assist users as they navigate independently from store to store, gate to gate, and point to point within a variety of venues?

The survey is here. Assuming you’re not currently lost in an airport, take a few minutes and help them out.

Which Black Sock Goes With Which Black Sock .com

Would anybody care to enlighten me as to who the target market for this $190 batch of internet-connected socks is? Because I’ve got nothin’.

That video is in what sounds like German, so if like me you can’t see what’s happening you’re not going to get a whole lot out of it. But there’s this, which tells you everything you need to know assuming the words $190 internet-connected socks wasn’t more than enough.

Calf socks classic with Plus+: Probably the smartest socks in the world

Probably the smartest men’s dress socks in the world: Our classic calf socks can now communicate with your iPhone as all Plus+ socks have a communication button.
Start out by ordering a Starter kit of 10 pairs of black calf socks Plus+ and your own personal Sock Sorter to translate between your socks and your iPhone.

Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks. Your phone would know:

  • which socks belong together,and could help sort them out,
  • how often you have washed your socks,
  • when your socks were produced,
  • when you ordered your socks
  • and

  • when your socks were dispatched.

Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.
This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true.

That’s so sad. Though not quite as sad as knowing that somebody someplace is buying them, I suppose.

Only two of these features would be remotely useful to me, and most folks wouldn’t even need the second one.

Quickly and easily knowing it’s time to order new socks before I run out? Cool. Everybody could use that. And as a blind guy, it is handy to know which socks go together. That’s a real pain in the ass sometimes. But fortunately it’s a problem I can already solve for free, not to mention that this batch of socks are all supposed to be the same colour anyway, are they not?

Nobody’s going to listen, but I’m going to say this one more time. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I *can* reach over and stick my finger in this outlet, but I *shouldn’t*, because it would be painfully stupid. Kind of like a wiFi cookie jar, or an app that tells you when to drink water or yes, electronically sorted socks.

Bye Bye Window-Eyes, And Screw You, People Getting It For Free

In 2014, I wrote all about how big of a deal the Window-Eyes and Microsoft Office partnership was going to be. It would change the game, I said. Freedom Scientific would need to re-evaluate the way it does business. It was time to celebrate or at least be very optimistic about a huge increase in the availability of affordable access software for the blind.

Well, today I stand before you a humble man. A humble man who can admit when he’s wrong. Because boy oh boy, did I ever miss the fuckin’ mark on that one.

In the years since the big announcement, a few things have happened. GW Micro, the makers of Window-Eyes, was purchased by ZoomText maker AI Squared, which for those who don’t know is basically the JAWS of low vision screen magnification. Skip ahead to 2016 and AI Squared is bought up by VFO, a firm that I believe is determined to own every blind thing on earth. I say this because it also owns Freedom Scientific, which for those who don’t know is the JAWS of JAWS.

All of that being the case, something had to give. It always does when smaller companies become bigger companies. And what gave in this case was the free screenreader with Office offer, because how are we supposed to make great gobs of money just giving shit away, amiright? If you think that last sentence is me being too harsh, then observe the hearty fuck you given by VFO to its valued Window-Eyes and Office customers in the announcement below. Basically, everybody gets free or at least discounted JAWS…except you, ya freeloaders. You get to contact a dealer and pay full price, which in another example of my crystal ball being a piece of shit is still friggin exorbitant.

If you would still like or still need a very good and constantly improving screenreader that is free of charge, now is a good time to give NVDA a try. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that I’ve been using it almost exclusively for better than four years and regularly donate to keep it going even though there’s no requirement to do so. It, I feel confident saying without any fear of being mistaken, really has been and continues to be a game changer.

Ai Squared – Window-Eyes – JAWS Migration
Thank you for being a valued member of the GW Micro and Window-Eyes family. We regret to announce that sales of Window-Eyes have ended in the United States and Canada. Users outside of the United States and Canada should contact their local distributor for options. We are committed to our customers and will honor existing product purchases and software maintenance agreements, and we will continue to provide technical support to end users that have purchased Window-Eyes or a support package.  All users who are currently using Window-Eyes can continue to use the software indefinitely; however, as the Windows® operating system and/or applications change over time, Window-Eyes may not function adequately for your needs.
We understand how important a screen reader is to you and are offering JAWS® for Windows 18 as a replacement.  We are committed to providing a smooth transition and will honor existing Window-Eyes product purchases and software maintenance agreements, as follows.

  • End users that paid for and are current with Window-Eyes 9.x will be converted to JAWS 18 at no charge.
  • If you are using an earlier version of Window-Eyes, you can purchase an upgrade to JAWS 18.
  • If you are using the free version of Window-Eyes you can continue to use it. While there is not an upgrade path from the free version, if you are interested in purchasing JAWS, please contact our sales team at 800-444-4443.
  • Existing Window-Eyes SMAs will be rolled into the JAWS SMA program for end users that migrate to JAWS.

Detailed upgrade and SMA pricing information is provided below.
To make this process as easy as possible, we ask you to complete a simple web form that will go directly to our sales team, who will then contact you with an authorization code for JAWS 18, or request additional information if necessary.
Requests for upgrades must be submitted at http://www.gwmicro.com/window-eyes/migrateform or by phone at 800-444-4443 by July 31, 2017. Note, the free Window-Eyes Offer for Users of Microsoft Office version is not part of the conversion program.

Found One!

In case you thought distracted driving was one of those problems limited strictly to the youngsters and those damn phones they’ve got glued to their hands, 80-year-old Gregory Nayvelt is here to set you straight in fine fashion.

Around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Moore was driving a marked police 2015 Ford Explorer westbound on West Farms Road when he collided with a 2011 Subaru Legacy, police said.

The Legacy, driven by 80-year-old Gregory Nayvelt of Howell, failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Casino Drive and West Farms Road, crossed West Farms Road into Moore’s lane and struck his patrol vehicle, police said.
Nayvelt and his passenger, Lyudmila Nayvelt, 75, of Howell, were taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, where they were treated for minor injuries, police said.

An investigation into the crash found that Gregory Nayvelt was using a cellphone as a GPS navigation unit and did not see the stop sign, police said.

But it wasn’t just any police car that Nayvelt ran into. Its purpose at the time of the crash was to be part of the team working on the state’s U Drive, U Text, U Pay’ campaign, which is exactly what you think it is.

Police said that Nayvelt was in line to receive several citations, but how much this episode ultimately cost him was not immediately known. All we know is that it didn’t cost anyone a life or a serious injury, which is nice.

I Never Did Get That Mac

So I’m sitting here watching my iPhone update when suddenly it occurs to me that about three years ago I wrote a whole thing about needing a new computer but not being sure what I should get. It then dawns on me that I never did finish that story and let everyone know what I decided to do, so why not take care of that now?

One of the major reasons it took me this long to finish the story is because well, the story just finished. Yes, here in 2017 I finally got the new computer I was after in 2014. Thanks, life. Some of what happened has been covered elsewhere in pretty good detail, but the TLDR version is a whole bunch of stuff happened (about 98% of it to poor Carin) that sent get new computer system tumbling way down the priority list for more than a year. In the meantime I’d also gotten the old shitbox working again, and it was able to get me bye.

At the time I didn’t mind all of its slowness and stupidity because it was just nice to have something functional. And hey, it meant I didn’t waste the several hundred dollars I’d sunk into fixing it. But I absolutely let it go for way too long, to the point where it was becoming far more of a hindrance than it was a help. If you were wondering why I hadn’t been as talkative here or on Twitter as I used to be and have become again, mystery solved. Doing the simplest of things took sometimes 3 or more times longer than they should have because garbage ass computer.

But as of this January, that’s not a problem anymore, thank Christ.

So what’d I get?

The answer is not a Mac. Yes, I stuck with Windows, for quite a few reasons.

PCs are easier to take apart and repair, for one. I can have anyone I trust to know shit from putty in here to fix anything that goes wrong and is beyond my capabilities as opposed to lugging the damn thing all the way to the Apple Store.

I also did a lot of reading and talking to people, and I really started noticing that folks (particularly the blind ones) aren’t nearly as on board the Apple train as they used to be. Accessibility bugs not getting fixed, new ones popping up regularly, the Mac equivalents of things not working at all or not being able to do what a person needed, the lack of accessibility options (browser and screenreader combinations in particular) that I was worried about all along, the Mac Mini I thought about buying not being able to function properly with Voiceover unless it had a monitor plugged into it which kind of defeated the purpose…there were a lot of things.

But what about the virtual machine? Best of both worlds, right?

Uh…no.

I’m sure for some people it works just great, and I’m happy for those people. But I’ve seen that setup in action and let me tell you something, it ain’t fucking happening. Not in this house, not on my watch. Carin, the poor sap, runs a Mac laptop with a Windows VM as her work computer, and it’s the absolute drizzling shits. Watching her struggle mightily just to get the damn thing out of sleep mode and talking so she can do something as basic as send an email causes me physical and mental anguish. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened to me, but no way in hell was I spending that much money to take that chance.

So I’m now running a lovely new desktop complete with Windows 10, and a couple months in I’m quite confident that I made the right decision. It’s fast, it does everything I want and need a computer to do and so far at least, it’s come with none of the hassle and inconvenience it looked like the Mac would have.

I can’t tell you how awesome it’s been to be able to work up to my own speed again. I’m looking forward to using this thing for years to come, although hopefully not quite as many years as the last one.

If You’re In Hamilton And Have Some time, These Tactile Navigational Belt People Might Be Able To Use Your Help

I got this sent to me the other day. It’s kind of fascinating, and reminded me of the old Peepo of years gone by. I definitely have questions, but it looks kind of neat. I certainly won’t be able to go to the lab and try it out, but I can at least spread the word.

Project Serenity 2017: Tactile Navigational Belt:

My name is Elaine Harrison and I am the research assistant to a group of investigators working on conducting a study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. This study is interested in evaluating the efficacy of a tactile navigational system as compared to an auditory navigational system. We are also interested in the feedback on the tactile navigational system from our participants, as this is an innovative technology that has had little testing on its intended demographic.

I will briefly describe what the tactile navigational system is, however, there will be an abundance of supplementary material that will give you far more detail on the study we are conducting, as well as the creation of the belt itself.

Basically, the tactile navigational system receives its name because of how it works. The belt’s three actuators are spread across the torso so that one actuator is on the left side, one actuator is in the middle behind the person’s back and the other actuator ends up on the right side.
Using a selected GPS destination, the user will begin moving straight until the belt indicates for him or her to turn left or right.
The turn is indicated with a vibration left or a vibration right instead of a traditional verbal command. The user will be silently moved along his or her intended path until the destination is reached. The idea is that the user’s auditory system, now devoid of having to listen for verbal directional commands, can now focus on their regular external environment.
This is often helpful for those with vision loss, as the ability to listen for hybrid cars, pedestrian traffic and many other daily distractions can be frustrating when one is also trying to maintain route orientation to an unfamiliar destination. The person can now take their navigational information from the belt on his or her torso, making the left and right turns as smoothly as they occur. The belt is not meant to be used alone. The traveler must still use a long cane, dog guide, human guide, etc in combination with the belt to arrive at a destination. The belt only tells the user which way to turn.

We are eager to get feedback on this technology, as we are curious if it is or would be more effective than some of the audio GPS tools that already exist. The study also gives the user the chance to try out the belt to see if it might augment their independent travel experience. Our study has been approved by MREB, the McMaster Research Ethics Board, as well as by CNIB, Canadian National Institute for The Blind. We are in much need of participants and would be grateful if you would not mind browsing over our recruiting page and seeing if you qualify. We do appreciate any help you would be able to give us. We also would be grateful if you pass our information on to anyone who may find it of interest. We are able to compensate some travel expenses up to about $50, and the participant will be compensated $50 for their visit to the lab.
Our study recruiting page can be found at http://psych.mcmaster.ca/goldreich-lab/Navigation_Study.html
Or you can find our CNIB page at
http://www.cnib.ca/en/news/Pages/Participants-Required-for-Tactile-Perception-Lab-Study.aspx

I can be reached directly at harrisoe (at) mcmaster (dot) ca, and you can also reach the lab by phone at 905-525-9140 Ext.20840.

To learn a little more about the tactile belt’s conception and design, the following site is an interview with the lead engineer, Saurabh Shaw:

If you have any other questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to email me. Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully we will see you in the lab!

Best,
Elaine Harrison