Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw, the ability to eat and speak but he is not without a voice.
At TED2011 Ebert, along with the help of his wife and a few close friends, told the moving story of how he is triumphing over adversity and is getting his voice back through his computer. Text-to-talk services come with most computers these days and are used widely by the seeing impaired and those who cannot speak.
Text-to-talk allow users to type words into their computers which a computerized voice then reads aloud. Voice talent are hired to record hours of audio for these services but the result is artificial sounding, leaving room for improvement.
Ebert explained that after trying several services he finally settled on Apple’s synthetic voice “Alex” which was released as part of the 2007 Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.
“These are my words, but this is not my voice. This is Alex, the best computer voice I’ve been able to find, which comes as standard equipment on every Macintosh.” Ebert explains at the recorded conference, “For most of my life, I never gave a second thought to my ability to speak. It was like breathing. In those days, I was living in a fool’s paradise. After surgeries for cancer took away my ability to speak, eat or drink, I was forced to enter this virtual world in which a computer does some of my living for me.”
Impatient with the slow speed of text-to-talk, Ebert sites social technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, and email for giving him the ability to contribute to everyday conversations because online everyone speaks at the same speed.
Ebert ads, “Because of the rush of human knowledge, because of the digital revolution, I have a voice, and I do not need to scream.”
Ebert is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer for his work reviewing films for the The Chicago Sun Times and he is best known for his twenty-three year reign as co-host for the televised program originally named Sneak Previews.