When Age Matters

Northeastern University computer science professor Rupal Patel has discovered a niche in which age really does make a difference, though. If you have to rely on a computerized voice to speak, there aren’t many options. The automated voice of Stephen Hawking doesn’t quite match a teenage girl’s.

Patel has found a way to create customized electronic voices. Here’s how it works: A donor of a similar age and size of the person who cannot speak records a number of phrases that cover the range of sounds a person could make. The person who cannot form full words is recorded saying basic vowels. She mixes the two sets of sounds to make a new voice.

“What I’m trying to find is a voice that would have sounded like them, if they were able to talk,” she says.

Voice, she says, is wrapped up in our identities. And in that case, age is an important factor in finding a certain kind of self-expression.