Lyrebird steals your voice to make you say things you didn't – and we hate this future

Imitation is the sincerest form of abuse


Hastening the arrival of a world in which simulation is indistinguishable from reality, startup Lyrebird has announced plans to power up an online service that can imitate a person's voice.

Given roughly a minute of voice samples from a specific person, the upstart's system can, via an API, convert supplied text into spoken words that sound a lot like the human source.

As if to establish the technology's potential for spoofing political figures and spreading fake news, Lyrebird has provided audio clips that feature the voices of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, saying sentences they never said themselves.

The deception isn't perfect. The voice samples provided sound processed and often the phrasing sounds off. But two years ago, University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers demonstrated that voice impersonation attacks could be crafted to fool automated systems between 80 to 90 per cent of the time and human listeners about half the time.

Lyrebird's simulated politicians already sound fairly convincing and could be more so with attentive post-processing and background noise added to mask audio artifacts. Further reinforcement may be possible using real-time video face manipulation.

The startup suggests there is a wide range of applications for the technology, such as speech synthesis for people who have lost their voices. And in what's sure to be a right-to-publicity litigation bonanza, it also suggests co-opting a celebrity voice to serve as a personal assistant, to read text aloud, or as a character in video or gaming products.

The company, based in Montreal, Canada, was founded by three University of Montréal PhD students, Alexandre de Brébisson, Jose Sotelo and Kundan Kumar. Sotelo and Kumar, along with faculty advisors Aaron Courville and Yoshua Bengio, coauthored a research paper [PDF] on using neural networks to generate audio from training samples. The team will be at the ICLR AI conference in France this week discussing their work.

On its website, Lyrebird highlights some of the ethical issues arising from its technology and API. The company says it wants people to understand that voice recordings aren't necessarily trustworthy.

"Voice recordings are currently considered as strong pieces of evidence in our societies and in particular in jurisdictions of many countries," the company says. "Our technology questions the validity of such evidence, as it allows [someone] to easily manipulate audio recordings."

It may also provide plausible deniability for anything actually caught on tape.

Lyrebird is not alone in its effort to enable mimicry on demand. Adobe last November showed off Project VoCo, software it described as Photoshop for audio. VoCo, currently under development, is sound editing software that provides a way to edit sound files by re-typing a speech-to-text track associated with a spoken audio file, given about 20 minutes of audio training samples.

During the demonstration, Adobe developer Zeyu Jin offered reassurance that his company has been exploring safeguards against forgery using digital watermarks.

A French company called CandyVoice provides imitation-as-a-service through its eponymous app, which relies on Microsoft Azure for backend processing. Carnegie Mellon's speech group provides similar software under the name FestVox. Baidu and Google likewise have been making advances in speech synthesis.

The 1992 movie Sneakers imagined how a biometric system might be duped using audio samples rearranged to form a passphrase. Whenever Lyrebird gets around to releasing the beta version of its software, such feats will be possible with the touch of a button. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Beijing reverses ban on tech companies listing offshore
    Announcement comes as Chinese ride-hailing DiDi Chuxing delists from NYSE under pressure

    The Chinese government has announced that it will again allow "platform companies" – Beijing's term for tech giants – to list on overseas stock markets, marking a loosening of restrictions on the sector.

    "Platform companies will be encouraged to list on domestic and overseas markets in accordance with laws and regulations," announced premier Li Keqiang at an executive meeting of China's State Council – a body akin to cabinet in the USA or parliamentary democracies.

    The statement comes a week after vice premier Liu He advocated technology and government cooperation and a digital economy that supports an opening to "the outside world" to around 100 members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC).

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia teases server designs for Grace-Hopper Superchips
    x86 still 'very important' we're told as lid lifted on Arm-based kit

    Computex Nvidia's Grace CPU and Hopper Superchips will make their first appearance early next year in systems that'll be based on reference servers unveiled at Computex 2022 this week.

    It's hoped these Arm-compatible HGX-series designs will be used to build computer systems that power what Nvidia believes will be a "half trillion dollar" market of machine learning, digital-twin simulation, and cloud gaming applications.

    "This transformation requires us to reimagine the datacenter at every level, from hardware to software from chips to infrastructure to systems," Paresh Kharya, senior director of product management and marketing at Nvidia, said during a press briefing.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia brings liquid cooling to A100 PCIe GPU cards for ‘greener’ datacenters
    For those who want to give their racks an air cut

    Nvidia's GPUs are becoming increasingly more power hungry, so the US giant is hoping to make datacenters using them "greener" with liquid-cooled PCIe cards that contain its highest-performing chips.

    At this year's Computex event in Taiwan, the computer graphics goliath revealed it will sell a liquid-cooled PCIe card for its flagship server GPU, the A100, in the third quarter of this year. Then in early 2023, the company plans to release a liquid-cooled PCIe card for the A100's recently announced successor, the Hopper-powered H100.

    Nvidia's A100 has already been available for liquid-cooled servers, but to date, this has only been possible in the GPU's SXM form factor that goes into the company's HGX server board.

    Continue reading
  • Zuckerberg sued for alleged role in Cambridge Analytica data-slurp scandal
    I can prove CEO was 'personally involved in Facebook’s failure to protect privacy', DC AG insists

    Cambridge Analytica is back to haunt Mark Zuckerberg: Washington DC's Attorney General filed a lawsuit today directly accusing the Meta CEO of personal involvement in the abuses that led to the data-slurping scandal. 

    DC AG Karl Racine filed [PDF] the civil suit on Monday morning, saying his office's investigations found ample evidence Zuck could be held responsible for that 2018 cluster-fsck. For those who've put it out of mind, UK-based Cambridge Analytica harvested tens of millions of people's info via a third-party Facebook app, revealing a – at best – somewhat slipshod handling of netizens' privacy by the US tech giant.

    That year, Racine sued Facebook, claiming the social network was well aware of the analytics firm's antics yet failed to do anything meaningful until the data harvesting was covered by mainstream media. Facebook repeatedly stymied document production attempts, Racine claimed, and the paperwork it eventually handed over painted a trail he said led directly to Zuck. 

    Continue reading
  • Florida's content-moderation law kept on ice, likely unconstitutional, court says
    So cool you're into free speech because that includes taking down misinformation

    While the US Supreme Court considers an emergency petition to reinstate a preliminary injunction against Texas' social media law HB 20, the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday partially upheld a similar injunction against Florida's social media law, SB 7072.

    Both Florida and Texas last year passed laws that impose content moderation restrictions, editorial disclosure obligations, and user-data access requirements on large online social networks. The Republican governors of both states justified the laws by claiming that social media sites have been trying to censor conservative voices, an allegation that has not been supported by evidence.

    Multiple studies addressing this issue say right-wing folk aren't being censored. They have found that social media sites try to take down or block misinformation, which researchers say is more common from right-leaning sources.

    Continue reading
  • US-APAC trade deal leaves out Taiwan, military defense not ruled out
    All fun and games until the chip factories are in the crosshairs

    US President Joe Biden has heralded an Indo-Pacific trade deal signed by several nations that do not include Taiwan. At the same time, Biden warned China that America would help defend Taiwan from attack; it is home to a critical slice of the global chip industry, after all. 

    The agreement, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is still in its infancy, with today's announcement enabling the United States and the other 12 participating countries to begin negotiating "rules of the road that ensure [US businesses] can compete in the Indo-Pacific," the White House said. 

    Along with America, other IPEF signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Combined, the White House said, the 13 countries participating in the IPEF make up 40 percent of the global economy. 

    Continue reading
  • 381,000-plus Kubernetes API servers 'exposed to internet'
    Firewall isn't a made-up word from the Hackers movie, people

    A large number of servers running the Kubernetes API have been left exposed to the internet, which is not great: they're potentially vulnerable to abuse.

    Nonprofit security organization The Shadowserver Foundation recently scanned 454,729 systems hosting the popular open-source platform for managing and orchestrating containers, finding that more than 381,645 – or about 84 percent – are accessible via the internet to varying degrees thus providing a cracked door into a corporate network.

    "While this does not mean that these instances are fully open or vulnerable to an attack, it is likely that this level of access was not intended and these instances are an unnecessarily exposed attack surface," Shadowserver's team stressed in a write-up. "They also allow for information leakage on version and build."

    Continue reading
  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022