Alexa's Neural Text-to-Speech Will Soon Be Able to Read You the News
Listen to samples of Alexa speaking in the unmistakable ''newscaster voice'' style.
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Amazon is introducing a new speaking style option for its voice assistant Alexa, the Verge reported today. This style places emphasis on phrases and words in a manner similar to the easily recognizable "newscaster voice" used by journalists on broadcast television and radio to report the news.
To train Alexa, Amazon developed and refined a new text-to-speech technology that incorporates a generative neural network. This technology is called "neural text-to-speech" (NTTS). It's designed to produce more expressive, human-like sounds faster than older systems that divide speech into singular bits called phonemes — a process known as concatenative speech synthesis.
Trevor Wood and Tom Merritt of the Alexa Speech group shared yesterday that it only took a few hours' worth of training materials to teach Alexa how to speak like a newscaster using Amazon's new approach to NTTS. Listen below to the NTTS newscaster voice and compare it with the other, earlier versions.
|Standard neutral NTTS||Standard neutral NTTS|
From Amazon Alexa's developer blog
While the NTTS newscaster voice is still noticeably non-human, it does sound more natural. Amazon noted that most people prefer listening to the NTTS newscaster over the other TTS styles (although a human newscaster was the crowd favorite).
How does it work? "Our neural TTS system comprises two components: (1) a neural network that converts a sequence of phonemes — the most basic units of language — into a sequence of 'spectrograms,' or snapshots of the energy levels in different frequency bands; and (2) a vocoder, which converts the spectrograms into a continuous audio signal," Wood and Merritt explain.
Twitter reacted to the news with a grab bag of mixed feelings and wit. A radio announcer joked that it might be "time to call it" for his profession:
Others made Anchorman references:
This new development comes two months after Amazon first announced a new "whisper mode" for Alexa, allowing Alexa devices to respond to whispered commands by whispering. No word on a Ron Burgundy voice yet, though.
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