Google Assistant received more natural-sounding voice models again in October thanks to updated natural language processing and prosody models which use machine learning to understand and stitch together sentences with better intonation, rhythm, and stress. Now, they seem to be applying that same technology to Google Play Books in order to turn any book into an audiobook, and I totally saw it coming. The upcoming feature seeks to give an auto-generated narrator's voice to text-only books to make them more accessible and immersive. Google Play is working with publishers in the U.S. and the UK for the rollout and will make the publisher tool to create auto-narrated audiobooks available in early 2021 with a beta available now. Once set up for auto-narration, a user can choose between different machine learning and AI-created narrator voices like a cowboy named Tex, and more.
My earliest memory of books is not of reading but of being read to. I spent hours listening, watching the face of the person reading aloud to me. Sometimes I rested my head on the chest or the stomach of the reader and could feel the resonance of each vowel and consonant. I encountered many books this way: "One Thousand and One Nights"; the mischievous and brilliant writings of al-Jahiz; the poetry of Ahmed Shawqi and his peers from the period of al-Nahda, the Arabic literary renaissance that took place at the turn of the twentieth century; several books on the lives of the Sahabah; and the works of a long line of historians who tried to explain how and why a war or an epoch had started or ended. It never occurred to me then to question why there were hardly any books for children in the house; none that I can remember, anyway.
I fell in love with ALOUD right from its start, but one program that exemplifies my passion took place in October 2007. The late architectural photographer Julius Shulman was in the library's Mark Taper Auditorium to discuss his 70-year career photographing Los Angeles. At the end, he invited anyone to give him a call if they wanted to talk more; he said he was listed in the phone book. I took him up on this offer the next day and spent hours with him learning about the birth of architectural modernism and the role of his friends Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and Rafael Soriano. ALOUD created that kind of personal interconnectedness.
Mozilla's save-it-for-later Pocket app is about to become much more useful for uninterrupted reading... including those times when you don't want to look at a screen. The company is launching a redesigned Pocket 7.0 for Android, iOS and web whose centerpiece is non-stop listening. You now have to tap a single "listen" button to tune into spoken versions of all your saved articles -- handy if you're commuting home and can't stare at your phone. Appropriately, the Pocket team has added a "more human sounding" voice so that the experience is more enjoyable. You'll have a better time when you do want to look.