Over the years, we’ve seen technologies push the envelope on reality. When the Iranians shot off a bunch of missiles in 2008, for example, it was quickly discovered that they fired only one missile and just Photoshopped the rest in. More recently, on social media, it can be difficult to know fact from fiction.
Now we have Lyrebird, a Montreal-based startup that says it can “copy the voice of anyone.” After one minute of recording a voice, Lyrebird compresses it into a unique key to generate new words with the same voice. Its demo page highlights a fake conversation with Trump, Obama, and Hillary.
It’s obviously a work in progress; in its current form, Lyrebird sounds like a ventriloquist who’s unable to pronounce hard vowels without moving his lips; all the voices are clipped. However, the system did capture the nuance and basic sound of each politician.
But if the technology is perfected, what is the state of reality if you can produce a completely fake speech or event and post it online? At that point, Westerners, especially Americans, should be thankful for the skeptics. These people are often condemned as conspiracy theorists or worse, but they may be the ones who keep society from being suckered by a fake recording.
I may be too much of an optimist to think that our eyes and ears will not deceive us. But the ease with which the simplest of hoaxes spread online does not bode well for the future. Do you remember the eagle that snatched a baby?
This “attack” was in fact a quickie student project done at the Animation and Design Centre—also in Montréal. The students behind it, who were tasked by their professor to create a 3D viral video, quickly copped to it being a fake. But a more elaborate government-sponsored hoax or some grand Hollywood-engineered scheme like that portrayed in the prescient movie Wag the Dog might fool all the right people.
To be honest, the Lyrebird software looks fabulous and will be a lot of fun to play with. But rest assured, it won’t be used solely for laughs.
(Image above via Wikimedia Commons.)