12:53:55 pm on
Monday 22 Jan 2018

I Resign
David Simmonds

“I hereby resign,” says Donald Trump It could happen, even if Trump never speaks the words, himself. Here’s how.


Technology is the key.

That’s the promise, well, not the exact promise, which a Canadian company, by the name of Lyrebird, is holding out for its speech synthesis software. The company website invites you to speak into the computer for one minute and its technology will crunch your words into their component parts and spit out a reasonable facsimile of your voice, saying something completely different. Give it five minutes of speech input and the software will have you down cold or so Lyrebird claims.

Lyrebird even backs up its claim with a working example of the computer-regenerated voices of Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, developed from their public words. To my ears, the voices do sound Donald, Barack and Hillary-like, but they are obviously machine voices. Nevertheless, the technology has progressed this far; can we say it won’t get to the point where it could easily pass for the original.

Lyrebird also claims emotional content, such as outrage, apathy, sadness or empathy, say, is programmable into the voice as well. Too bad Mr. Trump didn’t use the technology in place of his own voice when he called military families a couple of weeks ago.

Legally, is a voice appropriable or does it yours, alone? It seems the voice is too intangible for copyrighting; however, it may be a trademark and your “moral” rights in the voice protected. Tom Waits, the uniquely gravel-on-sandpaper voiced American musician, successfully sued a company in Spain for using a voice that sounded like his, on top of a song that was derivative of one of his, for a commercial advertising a car. Said Mr. Waits ‘’I have a moral right to my voice. It's like property, there's a fence around it, in a way.”

Lyrebird intends its technology primarily to support voice-driven computer and machine applications, but the prospects for its use and misuse are wider.

It seems to me, that if I give up my voice to Lyrebird, I’m asking for trouble. The last thing I want is to have my reconstituted voice heard around the internet calling on Mr Trump to fight to keep his presidency or professing my undying love for Hillary Clinton and only Hillary Clinton. Thus, I haven’t.


Adding voice to a picture of Putin holding a Trump-like baby.

Some might say that voice synthesis is just the vocal equivalent of photoshopping, whereby you employ computer-generated graphics to create a ‘false’ image from a ‘real’ one For example you don’t have to search hard to find an image of Vladimir Putin holding a baby with a Donald Trump face and hair. Why would it be wrong to add the voice of a parent clucking in Putinese, while a baby whines in Trumpspeak or vice versa? The world has survived photoshopping, so why can it not survive voice synthesis? It’s just putting one more obstacle to watch out for on my personal radar that I don’t want to have to worry about.

The possibilities for serious mischief, using Lyrebird, are abundant. What would happen, for instance, if the Russians started using voice synthesis to influence life in Wellington County? What might stop them from hijacking “99.3 County FM” and simulating the voices of our local on-air personalities? They could broadcast falsely balmy weather forecasts, thereby ruining the County’s grape crop, turning the LCBO into a losing proposition, causing the province to default on its debt and eventually causing mass misery.

While we’re verging on paranoia here, how do we know for sure that the Russians aren’t already seeking to extend their influence to the County? Maybe, after having dispatched the incumbent to the Ontario Liberal party, the Russians might put up their own puppet candidate for mayor. Once elected, after stealing e-mails from his competitors and disseminating fake news about them, the Russian-backed mayor uses his or her vast influence over Council to put a nuclear reactor, of Russian design, on Wellington beach, thereby ruining our tourist industry. If you start seeing trucks with “Vladivostok Ford” dealership stickers on the back, you’d better contact the OPP.


Piece by piece, humanity is denuded by machines.

While my mischief possibility is a bit exaggerated, I have to wonder if piece by piece we aren’t being denuded of our humanity as machines slowly overcome their limitations in capturing and reimagining our images, our voices, and our innermost thoughts. We may end up forced to define our uniqueness by our propensity for random bouts of imperfection - at least until the machines figure out the algorithm for that too.

If I could do so, I would say, “I hereby resign, from the technological rat race.”

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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