Would you donate your voice to help people who cannot talk?

You can donate your voice to help (for-profit) researchers create more personalized text-to-speech systems for people who rely on this technology. The researchers combine features of the donor’s voice with features of the recipient’s voice to create a new, unique voice for text-to-speech users, though it still sounds like a computerized voice. At first, this type of donation seems like a really easy thing to do. It only takes a few hours and minimal equipment to record and submit your voice. And, the pay-off seems really big and meaningful. Look at how big Samantha, one of the trial recipients, smiles when she hears her new, personalized voice for the first time (video). But there are aspects of this donation that make me ask questions. Like:Could I give something that is so personal to me? My voice is a major part of who I am. People can recognize it over the phone (Well, sometimes I’m mistaken for my sister or my mom.) I use it (subconsciously) to tell people who I am: female (pitch), young-ish (creaky voice quality), successful-ish (uptalk), normal weight (breath control, pitch), etc. Who I am is intrinsically interwoven with how I talk. Can I share something that is so integral to my identity?*

Would I still be able to recognize my voice if it were combined with the recipient’s and in a text-to-speech system? If so, would that be too weird? When I watch the video linked above, I don’t overwhelmingly hear the donor’s voice in the new, collaborative voice. And Samantha’s mother says she can hear Samantha, not just the donor, in the new voice. So, maybe it wouldn’t be weird to have a similar, but noticeably different, voice in the world. But, my ears are not that good at hearing small differences, which is why I study sentence structures rather than sound structures. Maybe others will think the two voices, the donor’s and the collaborative one, sound too similar for their tastes.

Would someone even want my voice? I mean, my voice isn’t great. It’s too high pitched. I use creaky voice. I uptalk all the time. Enough people have told me what’s wrong with my voice that I have insecurities wrapped up in it. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. These types of criticisms are commonly given to young (and young-ish) women, even though men produce a variety of pitches, creak, and uptalk, too. I know logically that these features aren’t inherently bad, because if they were, we’d complain about men who use them, too. But this knowledge doesn’t automatically erase all the negative things I’ve been told about my voice.

I don’t know what I’d do. Do you know what you’d do? Would you donate your voice?


*For me, a voice donation is different than a hair donation, even though my hair is literally a piece of me, because I have an easier time manipulating my hair than manipulating my voice. I can dye my hair, curl it, blow-dry it straight, etc. In contrast, whenever I monitor my voice (it’s pitch or quality) so I can change it if needed, I have a hard time finishing a sentence.


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