Google Buys Phonetic Arts to Make Machines Sound Human

Google is beefing up its voice services with today’s acquisition of Cambridge, England-based Phonetic Arts.

Google’s view is that voice will be critical in making mobile devices with small screens and keyboards more useful. Already, it’s launched a number of services that let people use their voice to conduct a Web search, compose emails, play songs on a phone or get directions.

The acquisition of Phonetic Arts will help in the reverse situation–when the computer speaks to you, a.k.a. voice output, the company said in a blog post.

Voice interaction is a field in bloom. There are safe-driving applications that speak your text messages to you, so you can keep your eyes on the road, and Google’s own translation “speaks” text in multiple languages. Currently, Nuance Communications is one of the leaders in the voice-recognition space.

Google says Phonetic Arts’ team of researchers and engineers will focus on making the interactions less robotic and more natural by using small samples of recorded voice.

Terms weren’t disclosed, but Phonetic Arts will be joining Google’s engineering center in London.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik