04th Jun 2018

Lyrebird: the startup that gives everyone the gift of gab


Barack Obama:     “Hey Don! Have you heard of this new technology?”

Donald Trump:      “Are you speaking about this new algorithm to copy voices?”

Barack Obama:     “Yes, it is developed by a startup called Lyrebird.”

Donald Trump:      “That is huge. They can make us say anything now, really anything. How does this technology work?”

Hillary Clinton:       “Hey guys, I think that they use deep learning and artificial neural networks.”

 

This discussion never took place. Yet people listened to it hundreds of thousands of times, on SoundCloud alone. What great publicity for Montréal-based Lyrebird, the first in the world to achieve such quality in speech synthesis. And that’s only the beta version! It’s no surprise that there is so much chatter about Lyrebird and that the company received funding from some reputable Silicon Valley investors.

How does it work? Based on a short recording, Lyrebird’s AI synthesizes the voice then reproduces it to generate new speech by shifting the tone and emotional cadence. Imagine reading a story to your descendants, generation after generation.

The prospects are endless. What immediately comes to mind is the world of video games, animation, audio books and also for humanitarian purposes. Working in collaboration with the ALS Association, Lyrebird created the Revoice project that will help people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) who are likely to lose their voice one day.

Lyrebird emerged from the Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) headed by Yoshua Bengio, the world leader in AI and crusader for responsible technology development. The founders of the startup, Alexandre de Brébisson, Jose Sotelo and Kundan Kumar, naturally considered ethics a vital factor in their creation: Lyrebird can only be used with the consent of the individuals lending their voice.

So where does the name Lyrebird come from? It refers to the bird that is capable of mimicking the call of over 20 types of birds and practically any sound it hears, including a chainsaw or alarm.

 

To learn more:

SoundCloud link

Beta version of Lyrebird

Revoice project

 

To listen to a lyrebird:

BBC excerpt

 

 

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