NEWS
04/14/2018 17:30 EDT | Updated 04/15/2018 16:34 EDT

Lyrebird Helps ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Co-Founder Pat Quinn Get His Voice Back

Project Revoice can change lives.

Pat Quinn, co-founder of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge  attends the Webby Awards in New York City on May 18, 2015.
Stephen Lovekin via Getty Images
Pat Quinn, co-founder of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge attends the Webby Awards in New York City on May 18, 2015.

Canadian company Lyrebird has teamed up with the ALS Association to help people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) regain the voices that they lose to the disease.

Project Revoice lets those suffering from the disease keep a unique part of themselves.

Pat Quinn, a co-founder of the "Ice Bucket Challenge" social media phenomenon that helped raise millions of dollars for ALS research, was given a re-creation of his voice to demonstrate the technology's power. Quinn can use Lyrebird's tech, combined with assistive eye-reader text-to-speech tools that people with ALS already use, to look at parts of a screen and use his own voice, CNET reported.

The emotional end-result was captured in a video posted to the ALS Association's Facebook page.

The video showcases Quinn's efforts to bring awareness to the disease that affected not only him, but also nearly half a million people worldwide.

It also gives him his powerful voice back, which his illness stole from him three years ago.

"One of the hardest things about ALS is losing the ability to speak. I don't want to sound like a computer, I want to sound like me," Quinn's computerized voice says in the video.

"It's a strange feeling saying your first words a second time. It's like you don't even realize how powerful, how personal and just how unique your voice really is until it's taken from you," Quinn says in his new (old) voice as his loved ones tear up around him.

"My voice is how I fought back against the very disease trying to take it from me. Sorry I'm not going out that easy. I will make sure my voice is heard again," he continues, triumphant.

"Guess who's back, bitches?"

Nicholas Hunt via Getty Images
Author Arianna Huffington, co-founder of ALS ice bucket challenge Pat Quinn and Anne Quinn attend the Klick Health MUSE NYC on March 31, 2016 in New York City.

While Project Revoice encourages people with ALS to record their voices before they lose the ability to speak, Lyrebird was able to clone Quinn's voice using earlier interviews he gave promoting the Ice Bucket Challenge.

"I really didn't like to hear my old computer voice, so I often avoided getting involved in conversations. This technology gives me back a vital piece of myself that was missing," Quinn said in a press release.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a degenerative neurological disease. Over its course, sufferers lose the ability to walk, talk, move and eventually breathe.

Lyrebird can make high-quality natural sounding voices with a few hours of voice recordings, and Project Revoice is working to get more people with ALS to bank their voices so that they can always sound like themselves through computers instead of turning to "machine" voices.

I really didn't like to hear my old computer voice, so I often avoided getting involved in conversations. This technology gives me back a vital piece of myself that was missing.Pat Quinn

The project was created by Scandinavians Oskar Westerdal and René Schultz, who teamed up with Canada's Lyrebird and a few other organizations including the ALS Association to bring it to life.

"This technology is 100 per cent dependent on having consistent, high-quality voice material to work with. Since ALS/[Motor Neurone Disease] is a progressive and sometimes unpredictable disease, we believe it's crucial to get the message out now and encourage more people to start voice banking while they still can, so they have the voice material necessary to create their 'Revoice' when the full application launches," Westerdal said.

"Essentially our model asks 'How can I differentiate your voice from the other voices?'," he told CNET. "It analyses the recordings, comes up with the characteristics that make a voice unique and is able to generate phrases based on that."

Lyrebird was created by three University of Montreal students in March 2017, according to the Globe and Mail. Another potential use for his technology is in the film industry.

Movie makers are "really interested," co-creator Alexandre de Brébisson told the paper. "In their case, they want to freeze the voices of their actors, so if the actor ages or dies, they will still have a copy of their voice that they can use."

The company is aware its tech has ethical implications and could potentially be misused. Its policy for navigating its tech in the future is addressed on its website. Lyrebird says it will ensure people's voices still belong to them and that the public is educated on the possibilities its tech opens up.

The Revoice team is hoping to make their application available to people with ALS for free by the end of 2018.

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