Tag s | Text-to-Speech

Attack of the Writing Robots

I have a number of personal friends and long-time acquaintances who are talented voice-over artists. They work in radio, television and narrate audio books.

I frequently get together with three other guys who are all professional speakers and radio people. I sound like Elmer Fudd when I am around those guys.

So, with this background, no wonder I am disturbed when I see the increased use of “text-to-speech” software, which converts a Word file, PDF or even an email to voice. Software like Ivona, NaturalReader and Amazon Polly are actually quite amazing. Companies invest heavily to make the end product as good as possible. And we are not just talking about English. In time, most written languages will have text-to-speech software available.

If you watch informational or news videos on YouTube, you will notice the growing number employing text-to-speech software. The technology is relatively inexpensive and will pay back the cost in a short time compared to hiring professional announcers.

So, writers, you aren’t the only ones whose livelihoods are threatened by technology.

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post in this space about “Robo-Writing” and highlighted one software developed at Northwestern University near Chicago.

Narrative Science was a collaborative effort between the Medill School of Journalism and the Northwestern computer science department. They started by having software create a news story simply by scanning a typical baseball box score.

If you think the influence of computer generated news stories is a passing fancy, here is a list of companies using Narrative Science software. And they are not the only ones doing this.

Auto-writing technology isn’t going away; in fact it will only grow in importance.

The expanded use of sophisticated software and even artificial intelligence has created a significant threat to technical non-creative writers. Newsrooms and news services must do things faster and cheaper than ever before and hiring someone to write a fact-based overview of some government meeting is not something you want to spend a lot of money to have written.

The use of speech-to-text has been around a long time, so those whose job was to write down what others said are becoming an endangered species.

Just as machines have taken over many of the manual functions in manufacturing and computers are replacing people in so many ways, if you want to write as a profession, make it creative. Make it snap. Build an experience for the reader.

Book authors now have another competitor in the marketplace, and it isn’t the tens of thousands of other writers vying for attention. This competition now owns the category of the information-giving, fact-reporting style of writing, which does not need to be creative. It’s the type being replaced with software.

To be honest, I simply want to know the weather forecast for today, if it’s going to rain or not and what I should expect. I don’t need an esoteric musing on the meaning of a cloudy day. Robots get to the point.

Yeah robots.

But creative writers need to be just that…creative. Manuscripts need to be honed and inspired, not cranked out like some manufactured word machine. We now have machines to do that kind of writing.

We can all discuss whether a computer will ever write a book.  My prediction is it will happen sometime in the near future and no one will know the difference, until it is revealed after getting good reviews and the author invited to appear on television interview shows and a laptop shows up in the green room.


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