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Star Trek's LCARS Could Become Your Virtual Assistant (cnet.com) 145

H_Fisher writes: It has arguably inspired many other technological innovations in the fifty years since its premiere, and now another Star Trek-inspired touch could be coming to your device: the voice of Majel Barrett from the Star Trek universe's LCARS computer system. CNET reports: "The voice of LCARS was provided by Majel Barrett, who was married to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Although Barrett sadly passed away in 2008, she took several roles on the show over the years, including nurse Christine Chapel in Star Trek: The Original Series and Betazoid ambassador Lwaxana Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to a tweet by the official Roddenberry account yesterday, this has provided enough phonetic data to perhaps get Barrett's voice appearing in upcoming new 2017 TV series Star Trek: Discovery -- and maybe even a Siri-like virtual assistant."
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Star Trek's LCARS Could Become Your Virtual Assistant

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  • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @05:15AM (#52839567)

    I've always been able to spot other trekkers by how people react to me referring to any digital female voice as Majel.

  • I basically grew up in the time just after TOS aired (I was only 3 in 1967 so I wasn't watching then, and I barely remember the series being on first run TV at all). However, I do remember a number of TV pilots that Roddenberry created after Star Trek, that unfortunately were never picked up by the networks as regular series. I'm talking about made-for-TV-movies like Genesis II, Strange New World and Planet Earth (which were all attempts to boot up a series set in the same post apocalyptic future), as wel
    • That's because they were married. Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

      She could act too but most of her roles were done by her husband, and cameos after he died. That's why loxwana too gets more character development latter TNG and ds9

    • I can't recall any of those. I was 5 when TOS first aired in '67. I do remember my older sister recording episodes on a small reel to reel tape recorder though (audio only, of course); the precursor to the VCR. She had a huge crush on Kirk.
  • by Calydor ( 739835 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @05:19AM (#52839575)

    Maybe I'm just old and boring, but I really don't like the way that being dead is no longer the end for appearing in new things you never knew about. Between the holographic appearances of ... was it Tupac? And now this, it all just feels a bit too morbid to me.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by coastwalker ( 307620 )

      Actually I think it is a sign of the times. Nothing new has been done since the 60's generation wrote the aspirational playbook. So why shouldn't they become immortal? They grew up in a world made grey by a world war and they wanted something better. Sadly the following generations mostly just want to breed and watch action adventure movies made by the man. The occasional spark of inspiration like Firefly is soon replaced by tedious soaps with soft porn and violence like Game of Thrones.

      • just want to breed

        No they don't. If they were Europe wouldn't be importing muslims and the US wouldn't be importing Mexicans. White european birthrates are catastrophically low and will likely never recover.

        • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

          and will likely never recover.

          Based on what? What particular crystal ball is being used for this? Never is a long-ass time.

      • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

        Firefly a spark of inspiration? You mean that shit american Blake's 7 ripoff, just with space zombies added?

        • "Space zombies"? Isn't a prerequisite for something being a zombie being dead at some point?

          A zombie (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse.

          Reavers aren't reanimated; they're just regular humans who went crazy.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
        You appear to have problems differentiating between fact and opinion.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's fucking ridiculous. Nirvana is back on tour. Robin Williams is live at Winstar Casino this weekend. Gene Wilder is starring in the gay porno "Charlie the Fudgepacker"

      Eternity is a long time to go without a paycheck, so if I were you, I'd start planning your post-death retirement too. Your 401k isn't going to last forever.

    • Can't forget Audrey Hepburn appearing in a candy commercial [youtube.com], decades after her death.

      And remember when those Matrix-movies-that-shall-not-be-named had hundreds of Agent Smiths? The technology they used to scan Hugo Weaving and replicate him digitally was already being billed at that time as a way to bring dead actors back, or else bring back younger versions of actors who've aged significantly...which is exactly what we saw in one of the newer Terminator movies (whatever the Christian Bale one was called),

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      Between the holographic appearances of ... was it Tupac?

      That wasn't a hologram. It was a special effect called Pepper's Ghost [wikipedia.org].

      Worse, the effect that was used for Tupac wasn't even three dimensional... if you were looking at it from an oblique angle, you'd see the image much as you would see a picture from a similar angle.. The smaller angular diameter you perceive of the surface would result in the visual features you could see from more directly in front being condensed into a tighter space, while with

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, academic research is also creepy. Dead people's ideas being used to support new ideas is kinda necromantic.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @05:20AM (#52839579) Homepage

    ... a fitting tribute to the actress or just that little bit creepy? I can't decide.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just wait till they realistically "reanimate" the original crew.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @06:03AM (#52839693) Homepage Journal

        They could do that today. They did it with Hitler for a documentary by digitally putting his face into an actor.

        I kinda wish they would actually. Bring back Firefly, finish Angel, do some more Next Generation stories with the characters from that era.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You must've missed Firefly the movie. There was pretty much nothing left to be discovered after that.

        • by azcoyote ( 1101073 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @07:58AM (#52839983)
          I miss Firefly too, but I think it's dangerous to assume that we can simply get back to the past. Whenever I watch Next Generation now, I realize how much it is a product of a bygone era, e.g. its extremely optimistic technological future (who would really work without money?). We can artificially bring back names and faces, but it would never be the same show again; in fact, it would probably just annoy the original fans for being different.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            The odd part about Star Treks utopia was that the whole money part wasn't consistent. Apparently no one had to work for money, but people would still do underhanded things to get it and it was still exchanged for good and services.
            • Actually, I don't think it was so inconsistent .... Just not as well explained to viewers as it could have been.

              Those enlisted in Starfleet or living on planets under their control didn't have to work for money anymore.... For those who lived on planets outside their zone of influence, results varied. Many of those planets still exchanged currency for goods and/or services. Technology like replicators don't appear to have been universally available or prevalent.

              • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

                Nah, it was still inconsistent. Harry Mudd clearly lived within Federation space, even if he considered himself an outlaw, and he was obsessed with money.

                And what about the Ferenghi living on Deep Space 9? Didn't they live on a "planet" under Starfleet's control? I guess technically they weren't really obsessed with money, they were obsessed with acquiring material things. But that in itself is a paradox when acquiring material things incurs no monetary cost.

                I mean, if you think about it, the idea of the en

                • The Ferengi explicitly rejected the very concept of material egalitarianism (which underlies the Federation using their replicated plenty to eliminate scarcity), and for entirely social reasons (status) strove to acquire something that specifically could not be replicated (Latinum). They basically worship capitalism (literally) and actively fight against the natural progress of technology eliminating it.

                  Mudd likely wanted money for similar reasons. Some people -- lots of people -- don't just want all of the

                • Mudd sometimes lived in Federation Space. He went out of it twice, the first to pick up whores for miners to marry, and the second to live on a planet of robots.

          • Whenever I watch Next Generation now, I realize how much it is a product of a bygone era, e.g. its extremely optimistic technological future (who would really work without money?).

            Anyone who wanted to have stuff that you couldn't have as an ordinary civilian. Not just anyone in the Trek universe got ferried around to pleasure planets, or even got to travel on starships to anywhere except colony worlds, even by the time of TNG. The only known privately owned starship in the Federation by the time of TOS was captained by a criminal and I don't recall any other personal vessels anywhere in the Federation in any show... but perhaps someone will show me up with their superior knowledge? h

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            I think TNG is kind of timeless in that respect. Okay, some of the tech has dated badly, like why don't the com badges have cameras to save them describing everything over a voice channel (other than to save money and build suspense, obviously), but the ideas stand up. You mention the lack of money specifically, at a time when some places are experimenting with a universal basic income.

            Have you seen Star Trek Continues on YouTube? It's a continuation of the original series and actually better in many ways.

        • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

          Nah, it'd result in some pretty crappy rip-offs.

          Have you seen the show Dark Matter? It tries really hard to be Firefly-esque - identical (if shallower) archetyped characters (bravado gunman, gifted girlchild, etc.) , all with a similar gist. At least in the first couple episodes, that's as far as I got due to the insufferable dialog and acting.

          And without the characters - the acting, the motion, etc. - it'd not be the same. And which is harder, impersonating someone, or playing a unique character? I'm fairl

        • They could do that today. They did it with Hitler for a documentary by digitally putting his face into an actor.

          I kinda wish they would actually. Bring back Firefly, finish Angel

          The ending is up to you! For example:

          Angel Secret Ending: Charisma Carpenter and Amy Adams make love to each other for 17 hours, the end.

    • Less creepy when you remember that there were actual plans to call a digital assistant "Majel". And that all computer voices we hear today could already be the voices of dead voice actors. And they are already disembodied voices.

      I'd swing more to the "fitting tribute" side

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        "And that all computer voices we hear today could already be the voices of dead voice actors. And they are already disembodied voices."

        True, but recording something then dying is one thing, using the voice of someone who is already dead is another.

        • Her voice was recorded before she died too!

          • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

            I could have phrased that better.

            I mean that they have decided *after* her death to use recordings that were done for another series. She didn't record them for the new series then die.

      • You shouldn't ever watch old movies. The actors in there are like ghosts of the past, you know...

        • Have you ever met my grandparents? They had the habit of, when watching tv, going on about all those dead people, too...

          • My grandma had the habit of reading the obituaries with her friends to look who they know. It was like a morbid game of "hah, outlived ya!"

    • It's better they use a dead woman's voice than a dead woman's... ... no, I won't go there.

  • by Colin Castro ( 2881349 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @05:44AM (#52839633)
    When watching ST I always figured there were more than enough lines for her to be the computer forever in the series and the movies. Some people talk about it being morbid or creepy, but I think it's more of a tribute to her. We don't see her as replaceable even in death. My mom was always excited when she was on the shows as Lwaxana Troi and would always comment that she was Gene's wife and that she was the nurse on TOS. I doubt she could be a Siri or Cortana type assistant due to the words/products we use in speech that were never said by her and I don't think they recorder her just making phonetic sounds to combine into every word imaginable, but I would love to hear her on Star Trek again.
    • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @06:19AM (#52839731)

      That's how the synthetic voices of Siri and Cortana are made, too. Voice actors read texts, the recordings are split up into phonemes and these are then used to synthesize the actual words we can hear. These computer voices aren't made on a word-by-word basis anymore.

      The recorded text however are nonsense texts that are specially designed to contain a maximum phonem variety in a minimum of recorded text and that way of course it's known how many vairants of each phonem are available exactly where in the recording. So, with enough recorded material it should be possible to extract the same phonem variety. It's just more work as you have to find them first

      • by Anonymous Coward
        I've heard an interview with the woman who voiced Siri. If I recall correctly she read a LOT of text for the 'role'. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there are huge numbers of phonemes that have no representation in all of Barrett's voice work. You may be better off finding a human to impersonate Majel and record all new text.
        • The technology to extract and create phonemes has probably improved since Siri's voice was created.

      • by plover ( 150551 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @09:09AM (#52840325) Homepage Journal

        The number of actual complete words recorded can improve the overall quality of the synthesized voice. Phonetically pasted-together words are still not quite as good as complete, well formed words. (That's why they always have the talent read the full set of numbers instead of synthesizing words like "eleven".) Reading a phonetically complete subset of words is a good way to capture the most usable portion of the voice in the minimum amount of time. That's important when you're paying the talent by the hour, but it's not necessarily going to produce the overall best results. Having access to the full body of work will not only provide the needed phonemes, but will include a good vocabulary of higher quality words.

        Of course, having a slightly choppy computer voice is one way of overcoming the uncanny valley. Holding a conversation with a dead person might be unnerving for some people. Hearing the little clips and weird tone changes as the voice is reassembled would be a constant reminder that you're actually talking to a computer, not a person, and might be of some comfort.

        • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Wednesday September 07, 2016 @09:33AM (#52840475)

          Of course, having a slightly choppy computer voice is one way of overcoming the uncanny valley. Holding a conversation with a dead person might be unnerving for some people. Hearing the little clips and weird tone changes as the voice is reassembled would be a constant reminder that you're actually talking to a computer, not a person, and might be of some comfort.

          So we are recreating the voice of a dead person as a computer voice to honor the person who actually gave a computer a human voice. That's no uncanny valley, that's a first class uncanny round-trip!

      • Vocaloids [wikipedia.org] did this long before voice assistants. To be done properly though, the recording has to be done at a constant pitch, so it's easier to modulate it by computer later. "Harvesting" phonemes, diphomes, and polyphomes from pre-recorded spoken speech isn't as effective because you need to post-process it to remove the pitch change. (It should be noted that adding inflections to make it sound like spoken speech is a huge AI project in itself. Singing is a lot easier to synthesize because these chang
  • But I guess going the emulation route is cooler.

  • Roger Ebert [imdb.com], popular movie critic, lost his voice to when his jaw was removed to fight the cancer that eventually killed him.

    Like Majel he had 25+ years of recorded material from TV shows like At the Movies. He even hired a firm to create a voice from that material. As it turned out, that 25+ years of recording was inadequate to create a working synthetic voice.

    I suspect Roger had more material than Majel as he was doing 22 minute review shows for some many years compared to Majel's occasional appearance

  • There is a TOS episode where the computer voice was upgraded to a sexy sounding female. Kirk reprimands the computer, and it sounds noticeably sad. I don't think you can do that with the existing recordings of Majel Barrett.
  • Fuck that. I want a John Wayne styled LCARS first.

    "Life is hard when you're stupid."
    "Howdy, partner."
    "That'll be the day."
    "Take 'er easy there, Pilgrim."
    "I wouldn't make it a habit of calling me that, son."

"You know, we've won awards for this crap." -- David Letterman