13134: One Category Of VO Has Been “Under Attack” By AI For Decades. And It’s Doing Just Fine.

Hey there, hero!

It was October of 1989 when America Online’s existence was first promoted in the MacWorld and MacUser magazines that hit the stands (and my mailbox in Washington DC). I went on my morning show on Q107, and told listeners they could send me messages on the service, addressed to screen name David107.

That shoutout on the air did two things: first, it caused Jean Villanueva to nearly spit out her coffee as she traveled along the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia – she was on her way to her job as AOL’s chief communications officer. Second, it prompted her to call me when I got off the air that morning and ask if I wanted to record the phone messages people would hear when they first called AOL’s tech support lines.

Thus began my first job doing IVR, and one of the longest client relationships (over 28 years) I’ve ever enjoyed: over 38,000 prompts (individual messages) recorded over the years.

IVR became a huge thing for me, and despite a ton of work in that space, I began almost immediately to notice competition – from computer generated voices. Nothing like the human voice, nothing synthetically realistic, but like AM radio, quality wasn’t necessary. It was the information being delivered to the caller that mattered, no matter how mechanical it sounded.

So the massive developments in synthetic voices today seem oddly familiar, and it leads me to my warning in this episode of the podcast about the risk to our future as voice talent.

The warning might no be what you expect – and might make you smile just a bit.

Once you’ve listened, would you share with me if you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. So… What’s the one thing that an AI voice cannot do? Act! A computer can deliver lines accurately like no human can. If your only value is that you’re a great script reader, you’re in trouble. But if you can really ACT—really *connect* with the soul of another human being—a computer will never be able to replace you with its statistical model of delivery. So… BE AN ACTOR! Do what it takes to learn the craft and get *great* at it. Don’t just read scripts, and you’ll be fine.

  2. Hey, David! Glad you are talking about this. The question that arose in my mind is: now that we have a few decades of AI’s incursion into IVR, is there any data that can track the growth of AI in that field, as the synthetic voice technology has improved by leaps and bounds? As the synthetic voices have improved, are they now more likely to be used over a human voice? I think that trajectory might lend some insight into how AI will move into other performance spaces. Or not. Have you any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. I just saw this, Debba – sorry for the delay in responding. I don’t know if any industry data that’s tracked on how many systems use synthetic voices versus human voices. There’s no way of automatically assigning or spidering existing systems and assigning them to one or another category (or as a hybrid system that uses both human and synthetic voices), but it would be interesting to know those numbers. I just know what my experience has been.

  3. IVR is a category of voice work that I’d very much like to do, so I definitely think about the impact of synthetic voices on IVR. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter as presented in this podcast episode. What do you think is the best method of finding IVR work?

    1. Wondering if you’ve taken the IVR course recently, where we talk about the general casting sites as well as “listening for opportunity” when you call local, regional or national businesses and hear what they have (or don’t have) for IVR.

  4. I continúe to get IVR work and I appreciate this rational approach to AI. “In the midst of fear, facts are our friends.”