One of the more rec­og­niz­able voices in the world belongs to Stephen Hawking—although, of course, it is not actu­ally the famous scientist’s voice at all, but one that’s computer-​​generated in response to his facial motions. He’s been using a syn­the­sizer to speak for almost 25 years now, his voice and ability to move lost long ago to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease. Today, the British astro­physi­cist is iden­ti­fied through his robotic monotone, one that actu­ally has an Amer­ican accent.

But the truth is, Hawking shares that computer-​​generated voice with thou­sands of other people, some young girls, some older women, and others of all ages and eth­nic­i­ties across the world. All of them, unable to speak nat­u­rally, think of it as their own, though there’s nothing unique about it.

And that just doesn’t seem right to Rupal Patel.

Patel is a speech sci­en­tist and director of the the new Center for Speech Sci­ence and Tech­nology at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. She has long long felt that a voice helps define an indi­vidual; it clearly shapes how a person is known in the world. Even if people can’t speak, she says, shouldn’t they have an oppor­tu­nity to com­mu­ni­cate through voices that are truer to who they are?

Read the article at Smithsonian Magazine →