Accenture and CereProc Introduce Non-Binary Voice Solution

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Accenture collaborated with CereProc, a text-to-speech technology provider, to create Sam, a non-binary voice solution for the digital assistant market. To encourage adoption, the companies have released all the materials used to generate the voice to the open-source community.

The work was spawned by a 2019 UNESCO report that found the vast majority of today's device voices are female, or female by default, and this limited diversity is problematic. It also found that designing female-only voice assistants reinforces gender bias and encourages negative behavior, both with digital assistants and with real people. Additionally, voices available today are binary and do not reflect the transgender or gender non-conforming community,.

Accenture surveyed non-binary individuals and used their feedback and audio data to influence not only pitch, but speech patterns, intonation, and word choice. CereProc then created the text-to-speech model using its artificial intelligence . The result is a voice that combines aspects of male and female voices to better resonate with the community it was designed to represent.

"While gender-neutral voice samples have been released previously, Sam is the first non-binary AI-based digital voice solution that can be embedded into any software solution to speak text in a human-sounding voice," said Marc Carrel-Billiard, senior managing director and technology innovation lead at Accenture, in a statement. "This work is a great example of how technology and human creativity can come together and spark a moment of societal change that can benefit many people. We believe it's essential that voice assistants more accurately represent the diversity of our global population."

Accenture has open-sourced all components necessary to develop a non-binary voice assistant, including a version of the text-to-speech voice running on an open-source engine, along with voice-training data. Accenture is also working with researchers at Heriot-Watt University who will use the voice as part of a collaborative research effort with several other universities focused on designing conversational assistants to reduce gender bias.

"By creating a non-binary voice with Accenture, CereProc is challenging strongly held mainstream views in IT that a synthetic voice has to be clearly male or female. One of CereProc's key aims since inception has been to empower application designers to disrupt the status quo in speech; with this non-binary voice we wish to raise awareness of this important issue in the next generation of AI-based digital voice systems that are developed," said Paul Welham, CEO of CereProc, in a statement.

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