The TED2011 Conference unveiled new technologies, encouraged imagination, and highlighted innovation as some of the most brilliant minds in the world converged to discuss everything from the seemingly mundane to the biggest problems plaguing the globe today. On the last day, emotions were touched by film critic Roger Ebert as he, his wife, his friends, and his Macbook moved the audience in ways they did not expect.
For months I’ve been combing through various TED Talks from this year’s conference. The best was the very last one.
“These are my words but this is not my voice,” the computer voice said as Ebert looked out at the crowd. “This is Alex, the best computer voice I’ve been able to find, which comes as standard equipment on every Macintosh.”
When Ebert lost his voice from surgeries for thyroid cancer, he and his wife, Chaz, began looking for a “voice” that would allow him to continue to communicate verbally. Initially, they used the standard voice that many have heard used by notables such as Stephen Hawking. Then Scottish company CereProc, an advanced voice synthesis company in Edinburgh, creates customized text-to-speech software. It was “uncanny” but also unnerving, so he started using Alex, a voice familiar to millions of Mac owners.
“For several days now, we have enjoyed brilliant and articulate speakers here at TED. I used to be able to talk like that. Maybe I wasn’t as smart, but I was at least as talkative.”
What followed was emotional and highlighted the use of technology to help overcome life’s tragedies.