Recreating Natural Voices for People with Speech Impairments

Posted by Ye Jia, Software Engineer and Julie Cattiau, Product Manager, Google Research

On June 2nd, 2021, Major League Baseball in the United States celebrated Lou Gehrig Day, commemorating both the day in 1925 that Lou Gehrig became the Yankees’ starting first baseman, and the day in 1941 that he passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 37. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons, which connect the brain with the muscles throughout the body, and govern muscle control and voluntary movements. When voluntary muscle control is affected, people may lose their ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.

In honor of Lou Gehrig, former NFL player and ALS advocate Steve Gleason, who lost his ability to speak due to ALS, recited Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech at the June 2nd event using a recreation of his voice generated by a machine learning (ML) model. Gleason’s voice recreation was developed in collaboration with Google’s Project Euphonia, which aims to empower people who have impaired speaking ability due to ALS to better communicate using their own voices.

Steve Gleason, who lost his voice to ALS, worked with Google’s Project Euphonia to generate a speech in his own voice in honor of Lou Gehrig. A portion of Gleason’s speech was broadcast in ballparks across the country during the 4th inning on June 2nd, 2021.

Today we describe PnG NAT, the model adopted by Project Euphonia to recreate Steve Gleason’s voice. PnG NAT is a new text-to-speech synthesis (TTS) model that merges two state-of-the-art technologies, PnG BERT and Non-Attentive Tacotron (NAT), into a single model. It demonstrates significantly better quality and fluency than previous technologies, and represents a promising approach that can be extended to a wider array of users.

Recreating a Voice
Non-Attentive Tacotron (NAT) is the successor

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