Critic regains voice

A famous US film critic has been given his voice back thanks to technology developed by an Edinburgh University company.

Roger Ebert, the most well-known film reviewer in the US, lost the ability to speak four years ago after life-saving cancer surgery.

However, computer technology developed by Cereproc, a company spun out of Aberdeen University, has been able to reconstruct Ebert’s original voice by using recordings of television appearances and DVD commentaries.

To reconstruct Ebert’s voice, the company – formed in 2005 – mined the recordings to create a comprehensive database of words and sounds. As a result, when Ebert speaks, listeners who heard him in the past will still recognise his voice today.

Ebert – who is famous for his thumbs-up or thumbs-down film reviews, and is the only film critic ever to win a Pulitzer prize for journalism – can now communicate, using a laptop, by typing sentences that are converted by a synthesiser into the sound of his own voice.

In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Ebert demonstrated the technology by predicting this year’s Oscar-winning films.

Unlike the types of speech systems developed in the 1980s – such as that used by Prof Stephen Hawking – Cereproc’s synthesised voices have character and emotion.

’We specialise in producing voices that have got a bit of character and don’t sound neutral or boring. This synthesis sounds very much like a natural voice,’ said Cereproc’s chief technical officer Dr Matthew Aylett.