Voice Recognition

“It’s for you,” my wife says, handing me the telephone.

I raise the receiver to my ear and speak the word: “Hello?”

“Hey, how’re you doing?”  The voice sounds muffled, a bit hollow; somehow I can’t quite place it.  I’m about to show my ignorance by asking the obvious question when the voice identifies itself as that of a friend with whom I haven’t spoken in a while.

“Oh, hey!” I say, conscious that my own voice has perked up.  “What’s new?”

“Just kicking back a bit after my recent surgery.  Thought I’d give you a call to say thanks for the loan of your crutches.  Your wife brought them over the other week.  They’ve come in handy.”

As he speaks, a mental image forms in my head of him standing by the telephone in his kitchen, resting on the set of aluminum crutches that had supported me for two months a year ago.  I marvel at how the spoken word triggers a thread of snapshots stored in the photo album of my brain.

Voice recognition:  we know it when we hear it; we cue into the familiar sound, even though we might not have heard it for quite a while.

All of us can pick out the particular voices of those significant others in our lives:  family, friends, co-workers; radio announcers, TV personalities, politicians.  Each human voice is unique, as demonstrated by voice identity patterns in the sound laboratory.

In voice biometrics a person’s speech is digitized to produce a voice print. Spoken words are reduced to segments composed of several dominant frequencies.  Each of these segments consists of several tones captured in digital format, which collectively identify the speaker’s unique voice print.

There are those who have the ability to mimic the voices of others in a most convincing manner.  Although they might be able to fool listeners most of the time, they can’t fool modern voice recognition technology.  I’ve never actually tried it, but I suspect that, if you play the voice of a mimic beside the voice of the real person, the human ear would most likely be able to discriminate between the two.

Sometimes it’s that way in our lives.  We hear a voice that at first sounds convincing, yet we intuit that it’s not the real McCoy.  As we begin to attend to it, we recognize it to be fraudulent.

It takes a great deal of work to discern that still small voice which speaks from the heart.  Yet when we hear it, we know it to be true.

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One comment on “Voice Recognition

  1. DJE says:

    Fine piece. What is key is that animals can recognize a human voice — I wonder if they’d be fooled by an impostor. Then there’s smell and many other unique identifiers. I think Oliver Sacks has a story or two about this —

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