December 2, Thinkstock For 20 minutes, soft-spoken Maria instructs YouTube viewers on the art of folding towels. Only her hands, a glossy black table, and a towel are visible throughout the video, which has more than 1.
Gianluca Battista Advertisement Voice recognition has started to feature prominently in intelligence investigations. When ISIS released the video of journalist James Foley being beheaded, experts from all over the world tried to identify the masked terrorist known as Jihadi John by analyzing the sound of his voice.
Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden revealed that the U. National Security Agency has analyzed and extracted the content of millions of phone conversations.
Call centers at banks are using voice biometrics to authenticate users and to identify potential fraud. But is the science behind voice identification sound? Several articles in the scientific literature have warned about the quality of one of its main applications: We have compiled two dozens judicial cases from around the world in which forensic phonetics were controversial.
A voice analyst at work in a speech forensics laboratory in Spain.
Gianluca Battista In the French Acoustical Society issued a public request to end the use of forensic voice science in the courtroom. There are plenty of troubling examples of dubious forensics and downright judicial errors, which have been documented by Hearing Voices, a science journalism project on forensic science carried out by the authors of this article in and The process usually involves at least one of the following tasks: The recorded fragments subject to analysis can be phone conversations, voice mail, ransom demands, hoax calls and calls to emergency or police numbers.
One of the main hurdles voice analysts have to face is the poor quality of recorded fragments. To make things worse, recorded messages are often noisy, short and can be years or even decades old. In some cases, simulating the context of a phone call can be particularly challenging.
Imagine recreating a call placed in a crowded movie theater, using an old cell phone or one made by an obscure foreign brand. Nevertheless, many forensic experts are willing to work on sound excerpts that are of extremely low quality. Unfortunately, these errors are not isolated exceptions.
A survey published in June in the journal Forensic Science International by INTERPOL, the international organization that represents the police forces of countries, showed that half of the respondents 21 out of 44 —belonging to police forces from all over the world—employ techniques that have long been known to have shaky scientific grounds.
One example is the simplest and oldest voice recognition method: In Guy Paul Morin, a Canadian, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl.
Three years later, a DNA test exonerated Morin as the murderer. This kind of mistake is not surprising. The rate of recognition was far from perfect, with a volunteer failed to recognize even his own voice.Alan Woodhouse is a London-based voice, speech and acting coach.
Alan offers training in vocal skills, presentation, public speaking, and performance technique. Special Instructions 1. Please note that your answer sheet has been personalized with your name, member number, section number, and test type.
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