As a voiceover performance and business coach, I am used to fielding questions about the industry on a daily basis. Am I right for this industry? What microphone do you recommend? Am I demo ready? What should go on my demo? When is the right time to seek out a talent agent? Lately I am starting to get more and more questions about technology and the role it plays in our industry. What role(s) do newer technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies - have in our industry, and more importantly - are these hot new technologies stealing our voice over business?
As an avid and committed tech enthusiast, I am always encouraging others to embrace new technologies, not run away from them. After all, there is much fun to be had on the bleeding edge of technology. But now these new technologies are in my own backyard, seemingly encroaching on the very industry I know and love! I thought it prudent to take a step back for a moment, check out the latest developments, and then offer a perspective. My goal as a business is to play nicely alongside these new technologies rather than reject them. They're not going away anytime soon, that's for sure! Educating ourselves can help us to define and secure a place for us alongside them. Let's start with the (super smart) elephant in the room, shall we?
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The dictionary describes Artificial Intelligence as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” The definition of AI can be broken down even further into two categories: Narrow AI and General AI. Narrow AI is what we can see today; i.e. speech recognition by Apple’s Siri or vision recognition with self-driving cars. General AI is more the stuff of science fiction movies that we have seen; i.e. robots and computers learning how to adapt and reason like Skynet in The Terminator.
Another such example is "Sophia" - a well known human-like robot, created by Hanson Robotics. Sophia is a combination of AI and Robotics. She can recognize and respond to human facial expressions, and is considered to be a hybrid of real AI and human input, with a collective intelligence called the Sophia Intelligence Collective (SIC).
I've personally seen Sophia at three separate trade shows and she is impressive. She still has a ways to go to truly emulate a human, but she has improved considerably every time I saw her. She now has a little sister called Little Sophia, designed to help kids 8 and up to learn STEM, coding, and AI. If this makes learning fun and encourages kids, I'm on board! How could I not be?
How about replacing our voice? Engineers at Dessa built a model to replicate Joe Rogan's voice to showcase current AI techniques and showcased it in a video which has gone viral - Check it out below:
Why you’re ok
While Sophia and the Joe Rogan video are a little unsettling to say the least, there are still some telltale signs that the voice is not entirely human, specifically with breath and inflection. Some of the most well-known AI voices or voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana, etc., also use versions of TTS and/or computer-generated synthetic voices. While it still is no match for a human voice today, it is getting closer all the time. I'm keeping a close eye on the next 5 years and asking myself how my voice (and business) can be different and stand out. As a voiceover artist, it is now more important than ever to learn and practice the valuable acting techniques necessary to sound authentic and conversational. This keeps us unique and different from all voices, human or computer generated. And, as humans, we have the ability to learn these skills - FIRST. :) In a recent article from technologyreview.com, it talks about the recent advances in TTS by engineers at Facebook. The article states that while their new technology is very advanced, it cannot use human abilities such as changes in intonation to indicate changes in topic or mood, and especially as stories evolve over a significant length of time.
One caveat to keep in mind is that it is a buyers market. Only time will tell if AI voices will suffice for buyers in the future. It is prudent to keep a watchful eye on this quickly evolving market. For right now, in a world of synthesized TTS and AI voices, I want to stand out and be human.
"...In a world of synthesized TTS and AI voices, I want to stand out and be human." - Anne Ganguzza
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed reality covers the spectrum from completely real environments that you experience every day to completely virtual objects and environments. The mixed reality spectrum encompasses both augmented reality and virtual reality.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality brings attributes of the virtual world into the real world. Think of it as enhancing the real world with virtual sounds and visuals. The most well-known example of augmented reality is the once insanely popular Pokemon Go mobile game. This game allowed users to experience the world around them through their phone by overlaying game items (icons, scores, creatures, etc.) into their real-life environments. This immersive technology literally got people out of their houses and into their communities.
Why you’re ok
However, AR isn’t just for entertainment purposes. Businesses have been using this technology from everything from the military to medicine. The US Army uses AR for soldier mission training purposes and allows surgeons to see a real-time display overlaid on a patient. Think about all the possibilities there are for augmented reality such as a virtual walk-through of a new house on the market, exploring tourist areas in Italy, or learning about the night sky. Then think about all the voiceover possibilities that come with it. Remember, AR enhances the real world environment with visuals but sounds as well. Maybe you could be the next virtual real estate agent or tour guide? The possibilities are endless.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality differs from augmented reality in that VR totally takes over your senses (vision, hearing and sometimes touch) to give you the impression that you are in a different place (and maybe even time.) VR headsets like the Oculus Quest or the Dell HTC Vive totally block out your field of vision and sound and displays a 360-degree environment or image. You see whatever the headset wants you to see. One of the vital elements of VR is immersion. The user must suspend disbelief that the world around him/her is virtual and exhibit physical engagement as though the world is not virtual. For example, in Kingspray Graffiti VR you can become a true street artist like Banksy or Shepard Fairey by painting graffiti on sides of buildings or underpasses. Even Google Earth has its own VR. You can fly all over the planet to visit different world landmarks and geography. The more immersive technology is, the better experience the user will have.
Why you’re ok
Another key element of VR is sensory feedback. For VR to work well it must “feel” as real as possible using our visual, auditory and touch senses. Voiceover talents must be aware of how critical sound is in the VR world. Multi-speaker or positional audio on VR headsets gives users the illusion of a three-dimensional world. This technology is similar to what you hear in a theater with surround sound. In a recent Engadget article, Mona Lalwani describes an intense moment at the Consumer Electronics Show. “For a few terrifying seconds, the realistic audio in Fixing Incus, a virtual reality demo, had tricked my brain into thinking a machine had pulled nails out from the back of my head.” Think of VR as just another platform or genre for your voiceover business. VR gives gamers a totally different, immersive experience that is unlike any other platform. Games aren’t the only industry taking advantage of VR. Education, business, film, medicine, sports, and architecture are all seeing the possibilities of this technology.
Remember, all this new technology isn’t going away. It is growing and evolving every minute, and will become even more present in our day to day lives. Yes, AI may use TTS voices instead of a real voice but that is just a sliver of what is emerging. There are other new technologies that are creating even more opportunities for voiceover talents. So, instead of getting upset that machines are stealing your jobs, think of ways you can grow and evolve as a artist. I LOVE technology. I am so completely geeked out for this tech that I am now starting to offer AI/AR/VR/MR copy into my voiceover coaching as well as using it for current and relevant tech spots for demos I produce. I am truly excited about these new possibilities. Let’s stay ahead of the curve together! Contact me today or sign up for a free 15 minute consultation .
Keep on Rocking Your Biz,
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.