Most people should be familiar with the fact that Google is the single most popular search engine that can be found in the entire world. However, it should be noted that there are other search engines of significant size out there, as shown by the existence of Baidu. For proof, look no further than the fact that Alexa considers Baidu.com to be the fourth most popular website that can be found on the entire web, falling behind Google, YouTube, and Facebook but before Wikipedia, Reddit, and Yahoo.
For those who have never heard of Baidu, this is because most of its operations cater to Chinese users, meaning that it has minimal presence in the United States in spite of the fact that it is the second most popular search engine on the planet. In short, Baidu is much the same as Google. It is best-known because of its search engine, but it offers a number of other Internet-related services to interested individuals as well, with examples ranging from a cloud storage service called Baidu Netdisk to an online encyclopedia called Baidu Baike, which perhaps unsurprisingly, translates to “Baidu Encyclopedia.” However, what might interest a lot of people is Baidu’s fascination with AI, as shown by its latest creation in the field of voice cloning.
What Is Baidu Doing?
Voice cloning means using tech to mimic a person’s voice based on samples of their speech. It turns out that while Baidu was looking into ways to get a machine to generate more human-sounding speech, it came up with a piece of tech that was capable of cloning someone’s voice based on no more than a few seconds’ worth of their speech. Voice cloning is not new, but the sheer efficiency of Baidu’s voice cloning tech represents a huge step-up, which is without considering the fact that it can also change the voice to mimic another gender as well as another dialect.
It is not difficult to see both positive and negative uses for voice cloning. For example, if someone has lost their voice for some reason but has managed to retain some samples of their speech, voice cloning could be used to produce speech that sounds like them. Something that could help those struggling with the artificial tones of current speech synthesizers. Unfortunately, voice cloning can be used to duplicate someone’s speech for more nefarious purposes as well, seeing as how Baidu’s tech was proven to be capable of reproducing a person’s speech to the extent of fooling voice recognition software. As a result, as voice cloning becomes more and more accessible, it is not difficult to imagine a future in which it is used to fool voice-based security as well as cheat other people in other ways.
With that said, it should be mentioned that Baidu and a wide range of other entities are interested in ways of generating more human-sounding speech because of its potential application in interactions between humans and machines. Simply put, people tend to find the artificial tones of generated speech to be rather unpleasant, which is why there is so much interest in understanding natural language and reproducing natural language. Combined with other improvements in the field of AI, improved capabilities in regards to producing more human-sounding speech promises to automate duties and responsibilities that have to be performed by humans under current circumstances. As a result, it is no wonder that there are a lot of businesses out there keeping an eye on such developments.
Regardless, natural language is far from being Baidu’s sole field of interest when it comes to AI. For example, it made an announcement in October of 2017 that it was planning to launch a self-driving bus in China in 2018, which is in addition to other bits and pieces of news released at around the same time. Overall, Baidu’s voicing cloning tech is an interesting reminder of the huge changes that can be expected in the foreseeable future. On the one hand, AI promises to provide new capabilities as well as new opportunities; on the other hand, AI promises to create new problems as well, which will have to be either solved or managed. As a result, it seems safe to say that the future will be an interesting one for one reason or another.