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Leaping into the world of AI voice synthesizers

Some of the most fun outcomes of generative AI will be compelling deepfakes.

Although deepfakes used to take hours and specialized skills to make, new GPT tools are making deepfakes easier than ever.

For now, lets pretend there are no weird societal and legal problems this presents. Yes, it will obviously create all sorts of complicated situations.

Personally I’m more interested in the amazing potential for memes and prank calls.

So today, I put several of the top tools to the test to see what they are capable of.

The results are amazing, but somewhat disappointing.

For now, there seems to be only two apps that I can find that let you generate AI voice clones of celebrities: Speechify and Parodist.

Although there are many applications that claim to let you build voice-models for text to speech (such as ReSpeecher, Murf.ai, WellSaid, and Play.ht), I tested all of these and sadly they are all designed to limit your ability to upload a voice that is not your own. Alas, my dream of having Morgan Freeman read celebrity gossip magazines to me will have to wait for another day.

Fortunately, I came across Parodist and Speechify. Both are paid subscription products with a free-trial test period. Both also have a limited selection of celebrity voices to choose from.

Parodist is the more limited and cheaper option. The app has about 17 english language voices to choose from, although it doesn’t give the names of the celebrity and only identifies them by caricature (theres also a similar number of voices in spanish). I don’t recognize about half of the caricatures, i’m guessing because they are influencers. Parodist has a new feature called “Your Text” which will read whatever you want in the selected characters voice, but its capped at 150 characters. There are other features within Parodist, including the ability to have the app analyze your voice and tell you which celebrity you sound like, and a different feature of pre-recorded messages read by celebrities where Parodist can insert any name you give it. But, “Your text” is really the star of the show. The app costs $6.50 a month, which seems a bit steep for messages limited to 150 characters. It seems like the list of supported celebrities might change every so often (the app store screenshots show images of celebrities not currently available in the app). As I’m writing this, some of the celebrities include Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, Billie Eilish, Mr. Beast, Wednesday Adams and some cartoon characters like Homer Simpson, and Eric Cartman. The quality of the voices are okay but not consistently convincing.

I was more impressed with Speechify. The service will read just about anything you can throw at it – emails, pdfs, ebooks, websites, you name it. Impressively, these features work both on a PC and on Android and iOS apps. On a PC, that process is pretty simple, just install a Chrome extension, and Speechify will read any content on your screen (including this site). The mobile apps let you load your own personal documents or use the built in browser to navigate to any website online. The only real limitation that I saw with the mobile app was the ability to read emails. Although the app lets you copy and past text from anywhere on your phone, its hardly the same seamless experience as the desktop version. Compared to Parodist, voices are more limited. As of testing, the service offered Gwyneth Paltrow, Snoop Dogg, Barack Obama, and Dwight Schrute, with more options continually being added. The service does come at a cost – $139 per year. One hack I discovered is that you can get Speechify for 50% off if you sign up for the free trial and immediately cancel. During the cancel process the App will offer you a discounted one year subscription if you choose to stay. With only 4 voices so far, speechify has far fewer gags in store. However, the quality of the voices are much better than Parodist. If you have a need for frequent speech reading, the subscription could be worth it. But I suspect that for most users who just want to mess around, the free trial should be plenty of time.

If you’re curious what the experience is like, I recorded Snoop Dogg reading text out of a Google Doc. The text was generated with a ChatGPT prompt of things Snoop Dogg would say (what else?).

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