Ann Syrdal, a psychologist and computer science researcher who helped develop synthetic voices that sounded like women, laying the groundwork for such modern digital assistants as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, died on July 24 at her home in San Jose, Calif. She was 74. From a report: Her daughter Kristen Lasky said the cause was cancer. As a researcher at AT&T, Dr. Syrdal was part of a small community of scientists who began developing synthetic speech systems in the mid-1980s. It was not an entirely new phenomenon; AT&T had unveiled one of the first synthetic voices, developed at its Bell Labs, at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. But more than 40 years later, despite increasingly powerful computers, speech synthesis was still relatively primitive. “It just sounded robotic,” said Tom Gruber, who worked on synthetic speech systems in the early ’80s and went on to create the digital assistant that became Siri when Apple acquired it in 2010.
“Aww, if you make me cry anymore, you’ll fog up my helmet.”
— “Visionaries” cartoon
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