Mutatio Vox Populi

Changing the Voice of the People

Ashe Chung Studios

Ashe Chung Studios

It has just been announced that Anshe Chung Studios Limited (ACS) is partnering with Cepstral, a company that provides Text To Speech (TTS) to “provide its entire range of differently sounding English language voices, which are translated from the text user’s type during chat sessions, to enable ACS virtual members to use speech intonations of their choice.”  In other words, the ever creative former “hooker” and land baroness of SL has figured out another way to “game” the system.

Text To Speech Technology

Google Voice

Google Voice

I love text-to-speech technology.  In fact,  I frequently use Dragon Naturally Speaking to write drafts of letters, proposal and even blog posts.  I get transcripts of my Google Voice voicemail on my smart phone and have recently been playing with Jott Assistant a personal transcription tool that is easily integrated into other applications.

Why The Disguise?

The official press release for this announcement states that likely reasons for people to use this technology are:  “because either they are shy, have permanent or temporary speech impairment, want to disguise their voice because they are famous or cannot speak English.”  These all sound (pun intended) like reasonable uses for the technology.  I have personally met people who confessed to not liking voice because of their shyness or embarrassment over their accent when they spoke English.  I have never encountered a “famous” person who was afraid of having their voice recognized, although this reason might actually give us a hint about an unspoken market Ms. Chung sees for text to voice.  Yep, you guessed it, SEX!

Gender Role Play’s New Tool

Male Wearing Female Mask

Male or Female?

The media has devoted a significant amount of attention to the more prurient aspects of Second Life sexuality.  Less has been written about gender role play as a part of this phenomenon.

Despite a lack of “hard” statistics, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many of those engaged in the sex trade (escorts, strippers, etc.) in Second Life as female avatars are actually male.  In fact, someone I spoke with told me they had first-hand knowledge of a family where the father and oldest son joined the wife/mother working as virtual escorts, because “the money was good!”

In addition to the sex trade, there are numerous persons in SL who for various reasons choose to represent themselves with avatars that are the opposite gender.  Once again, numbers are illusive, but I know it’s a larger market than the “famous person” niche mentioned in the press release.

Ethics and Gender Identity

Gender Questions

Gender Questions

Although a discussion on the ethics of gender identity is not the main purpose of this post, the ACS announcement once again raises important questions for the SL community.  Is there ever a situation where portraying oneself as a different gender is unethical?  What if a person says they are using the ACS text to voice system because they are shy, but are really using it to mask their gender?  I can’t end this section of the post without mentioning an excellent blog piece I read today, while doing my research.  Second Life is a Post-Gender environment addresses why many SL residents resist sharing their true gender.

A Different “Slant”


$145 MM English/Chinese Acquisition

Although sex may be one of the markets Ms. Chung hopes to cash in on, I’m guessing the true “pearl” lies within the growing number and vast potential market of Asian users, that are part of her own heritage.  Although Europeans, followed by North American users, make up the bulk of Second Life accounts, these numbers are dwarfed by the potential number of users in Asia, especially China.  Japan and S. Korea already have high adoption rates, helped by both country’s virtually ubiquitous ultra-high-speed broadband infrastructure.  China’s Internet use is still stunted for lack of infrastructure, but that won’t last forever.

So what do all these Asian users have in common?  They have an incredible fixation with all things Western, including the English Language.  To give you an idea how big the Chinese English language market is, just read the Wall Street Journal.  Last month Pearson Education bought the Chinese English Language School business of Wall Street English for a record-breaking $145 Million!  This, coupled with the burgeoning success of the Virtual World language training phenomenon, make me think Ms. Chung has likely picked yet another winner.


7 Responses to “Mutatio Vox Populi”

  1. Some years ago I did research in text-to-speech and also ended up with Cepstral as the most suitable partner. We ended up dubbing a video with Cepstral voices, and native speakers usually do not realize it’s a synthetic voice.

  2. I don’t think its unethical to represent yourself as the opposite gender in SL except when trying to use it for exploitative or deceptive practices. The primary example that comes to mind is getting involved in a romantic relationship without revealing your gender if it is of importance to your partner. Besides this example – Ce La Vie is the way I look at it!

  3. T. Shawn Johnson Says:

    What bothers me, is not the fact that some individuals have a persona of the opposite sex (see the next paragraph to find out what does bother me about ACS and voice technology in IMVU). Everyone has a certain amount of the masculine and the feminine within themselves. I believe that if the need is there, playing out a fantasy where you can explore the opposite gender is a useful experience. However, misrepresenting oneself, I think is inappropriate. I’m sure that a woman who enjoys the company of women, could feel unsafe if the woman she thinks she is being intimate with turns out to be a man.

    Let me tell you about voice technology in IMVU, and I will copy this from a previous comment I made on, where this story was blogged:

    The background truth is that Anshe Chung Studios is neither a pioneer in virtual voice technology nor are they the first to use the VoiceForge technology in IMVU. Cassiopeian Ltd, another IMVU virtual goods creator, is responsible for pioneering this very same technology within IMVU through Cepstral’s VoiceForge in 2007.

    Once Cassiopeian Ltd produced Voiceforge products in the IMVU, marketted as “imVoices”, Anshe Chung Studios contacted Cepstral and began the process of negotiations to also use their technology. This happened after Cassiopeian Ltd had created the intermediary programming necessary to use VoiceForge in IMVU and established an exclusive working relationship with Cepstral.

    In 2008, Anshe Chung Studios contacted Cepstral to use their technology. Cepstral refused and Anshe Chung Studios threatened to look at Cepstral’s competitors to replace Cassiopeian Ltd’s ground breaking imVoices. Judging from this article, it seems that in the end the threat was too great, and Cepstral was able to be swayed despite their contract with Cassiopeian Ltd.

    Unfortunately, Anshe Chung Studios is not a paragon of fair play in business. Their track record is littered with such actions. A simple search using the Anshe Chung name will show much outrage throughout the virtual worlds community, including IMVU and SecondLife.

  4. Valiant – you get it! Thanks for the insightful TTS write-up. You missed one feature. TTS opens the possibility to use IVMU as a platform for machinima.

    Cepstral realized that for the technology to be relevant in new media, there needed to be variety so users have choices. (Why should “one size fit all?”). Furthermore, the delivery mechanism needed to be simplified and put into the cloud to eliminate downloads. (Who wants to download 50 one hundred MB voices?) These are the reasons Cepstral created – the online TTS service with lots of voices.

    Our mission is to “make the Internet talk.” We’re seeking partners in all online sectors including; media, blogs, games, mobile, navigation, education, and yes, Virtual Worlds. We are unbiased in our execution of this goal. In IMVU, we currently work with two fantastic developers, Anshe and Cassiopiea.

    Thank you for your support. We will continue to build new voices and refine the service and technology.

    -Craig Campbell

    CEO, Cepstral LLC
    We Build Voices® & We Make the Internet Talk®

  5. T. Shawn Johnson Says:

    error in above:

    The above link is incorrect. Here is a link to the virtual world(s) new site:

  6. Mistletoe Says:

    What if a person says they are using the ACS text to voice system because they are shy, but are really using it to mask their gender?

    Can it not be both?

    A close friend of mine is female-to-male transgender. He’s in the arduous process of bringing his body to match the identity inside. But, because he was born a she, his voice is decidedly not masculine. He has a male avatar, but will never use voice because he is terribly shy about his “girly” sounding voice and I can’t exactly say I’d blame him if I were in his situation. Yes, he could use an app like this to mask his birth gender, but his reasons aren’t deceptive or dishonest. In fact after I’m done and hit “submit”, I’m going to link him to this article and let him know such a thing exists.

  7. […] SL Revolution, Mutatio Vox Populi […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: