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AT&T Technical Archives – Early Computer Graphics – The Talking Computer

August 20, 2015

“Speech synthesis at Bell Labs dates back to the 1930s and Homer Dudley’s Voder, which was exhibited and publicly demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair. Because understanding all aspects of the conversion of speech to electrical signal was a core interest of the Bell System, speech synthesis research continued at the company in the ensuing decades, entering the computer era in the 1960s, with articulatory speech vocal tract models created by Paul Mermelstein, Cecil Coker, John L. Kelly Jr., and Louis Gerstman, among others. Text-to-speech programs were researched from the 1960s all the way to the present day. This film specifically documents the output of an early text-to-speech program. Cecil Coker worked on this project, which is an articulatory synthesis program. Coker most likely first presented this film at… the 1967 M.I.T. Conference on Speech Communication and Processing, or the 1968 Processed Speech Symposium in Kyoto. Coker was also one of the scientists at Bell Labs involved with the E.A.T. collaborations with artists program; he added technical expertise to art performances by John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg.” – Footage and text, AT&T Archives & History Center, Warren, NJ.

Referring to the section of this recording that starts 1:14 into this video, in terms of further demonstrating how prior knowledge conditions perceptions of ambiguous sense-data, and, as with so-called Sine-Wave Speech experiments (see links below), when you hear Cecil Coker’s AT&T demonstration for the first time (please listen now before reading the rest of this paragraph), the speech comes across as almost completely unintelligible. When however you read the transcript that your author has painstakingly prepared (!) and then re-play the speech in the original sequence again, comprehension suddenly becomes much easier… “The North Wind and the Sun were arguing one day, when a traveller came along wrapped in a warm coat. They agreed that the one who would make the traveller take his coat off would be considered stronger than the other one. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the harder he blew, the tighter the traveller wrapped his coat around him. Then at last the North Wind gave up trying. Then the Sun began to shine hotly, and the traveller took off his coat immediately. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.”

See the reference to André-Marie Ampère – “Rorschach Audio” book page 154.

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