The University of Chicago News Office
April 23, 1997 Press Contact: Julia Morse
(773) 702-8359

University of Chicago Professor is a Finalist in the “Academy Awards” of Science and Technology

Computers have long been able to “speak,” but only in a dreary, unpleasant monotone. Now, an invention by University of Chicago professor John Goldsmith makes computers sound like human beings.

His program, Speakeasy, was chosen by Discover Magazine on Wednesday, April 23 as one of 35 finalists in the 1997 Discover Awards for Technological Innovation. The finalists, which represent the forefront of invention and technology, were chosen from 4,000 nominees from around the world.

Goldsmith is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago. His invention, Speakeasy, was developed with the aid of both the University and Microsoft Corp. To give artificial speech systems a little more personality–and clarity–Goldsmith studied how a typical person’s voice pitch rises and falls throughout different sentences. He then programmed the resulting set of pitch rules into his Speakeasy program, ending up with a kinder, gentler and altogether more human version of computer speech.

“When this is refined, it will totally revolutionize the computer industry," Goldsmith said. “When we are able to carry on natural conversations with computers, we’ll give them personality. Computers now are just tools, but this can turn them into C3PO from Star Wars.”

It may seem like something from a science fiction movie, but Goldsmith’s invention is expected to improve the lives of thousands of people who are blind and cannot read text, or who use computers as their voices.

The winners of each category will be announced Saturday, May 31 at a televised Academy Awards-style gala at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World. All finalists, including Goldsmith, will be featured in the June 1997 issue of Discover.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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