Thumbs up to University technology

A famous US film critic has been given his voice back, thanks to technology developed by a University company.

Roger Ebert, the most well-known film reviewer in the US, lost the ability to speak four years ago after life-saving cancer surgery.

However, computer technology developed by Cereproc, a company formed through the University, has been able to reconstruct Mr. Ebert’s original voice by using recordings of television appearances and DVD commentaries.

As a result, Mr. Ebert - who is famous for his thumbs-up or thumbs-down film reviews, and is the only film critic ever to win a Pulitzer prize for journalism - can now communicate, using a laptop, by typing sentences that are converted by a synthesiser into the sound of his own voice.

In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Ebert demonstrated the technology by predicting this year’s Oscar-winning films.

University success

Unlike the types of speech systems developed in the 1980s - such as that used by Professor Stephen Hawking - Cereproc’s synthesised voices have character and emotion.

To reconstruct Mr. Ebert’s voice, the company - formed in 2005 - mined recordings to create a comprehensive database of words and sounds. As a result, when Mr. Ebert speaks, listeners who heard him in the past will still recognise his voice today.

We specialise in producing voices that have got a bit of character and don't sound neutral or boring. This synthesis sounds very much like a natural voice.

Dr Matthew AylettCereproc Chief Technical Officer

Driving economy

The University continues to have an enormous impact on the Scottish and UK economies by continuing to develop new business initiatives.

Its research and commercialisation arm, Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

In the last financial year, a total of 26 companies were created through the University. This is the highest number of companies formed in one year by a Scottish university.