Voice and message banking – where are we now?
The process of creating a personalised synthetic version of your own voice to be used in a communication aid (more commonly referred to as voice banking) has existed for over ten years, but over the last half dozen years technology and available services has improved to such an extent that more and more people are able to realise the benefits.
Although technology is improving, the process of voice banking remains ostensibly the same as it always has. The user records a set of phrases that are then used to form the basis of the synthetic version of the voice, using a laptop or computer (currently tablets are not recommended to be used as recording devices for voice banking) and a headset microphone. The number of phrases needed depends on the service used, but can be anywhere between 215 and 3500 at the moment. The benefit of this set up is that the need to record in a professional environment is removed – the vast majority of people voice banking do so in their own home, and can take as long as they need to make the recordings.
With the technology improving, the time taken to make the recordings has reduced from an average of 90 days in 2018, to 6 days in 2019. The quality of the voice produced is also rising – until recently the services would use the recordings to capture enough phonemes (a process referred to as ‘unit selection’) to create the voice, whereas now a process involving ‘deep neural networks’ (DNN) captures the algorithms within the recordings, allowing for arguably clearer and faster voice creation.
Message banking is another option that should always be considered, due to the fact that a synthetic voice produced by voice banking will at present still lack emotion and intonation – many of the services are working on this aspect but ultimately as it stands voice banking voices will still sound slightly robotic (albeit much more superior to voices from previous years). Message banking allows for a user to add emotion to their recordings, but as it is simply recording messages it means you are limited to what you record. However if you have particular catchphrases, place names, or a distinctive laugh then message banking is definitely worth considering. One example of how message banking can benefit is a lady who had voice banked, but her dog did not recognise the synthetic voice due to the lack of emotion – however when using her message banked phrase her dog instantly recognised the opportunity to go for a walk!
The MND Association continues to provide support to people living with motor neurone disease who wish to voice or message bank. Laptops and headset microphones can be loaned and financial support is also available toward the cost of creating a voice (prices vary between services). More information is available on the MND Association website at www.mndassociation.org/communicationaids
For further advice or support please contact the MND Connect helpline for free on 0808 802 6262, or email email@example.com.