They say don’t meet your heroes, but fans of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein can now chat to him online (provided he’s not busy with another call). The uncanny imitation is a glowing example of the versatility of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which was pieced together by synthetic media, voice cloning, and audio mastering tech company Aflorithmic, and digital human specialists UneeQ.
Interested in finding a more interactive solution to learning about the great physicist (and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s Nobel Prize in Physics) the duo got to work on an interactive and conversation AI that could provide nuggets of wisdom from the genius himself. The idea was to create something that could answer any question about Einstein or his views and opinions that would give quizzers immediate answers.
This isn’t UneeQ’s first foray into creating a digital human that can answer questions, with an AI called Sophie also available on the Digital Einstein website. They wanted to test their digital format on a widely known figure, famous for their intellect and whom people would be excited to quiz about science and technology.
The tech to create this reality-inspired avatar was already in place, but that left the question: How do we know what Einstein sounded like? “The answer is: most people don’t know and they likely don’t even care,” wrote Aflorithmic in a release about Digital Einstein. “What they do care about is being able to understand him easily, and that they feel like they are interacting with Einstein.”
Working from historical recording, the team established that he had a thick German accent, with a high pitch and delivered his words slowly in a manner like speaking to a friend. Unable to work directly from low-quality recordings (which often exhibited an accent too strong to be easily understood online) they were unable to use the normal method of cloning a voice.
Here, they took inspiration from cinema, instead creating a voice for the character of Einstein which was informed by the key characteristics gleaned from historical research. The result is a softly spoken, English-speaking Einstein with a German accent, which you can experience for yourself in the video below:
The final hurdle, if Digital Einstein were to seem like talking to a real person, was reducing his response time (though it would be very fitting to get ghosted by a man who's been dead for over 60 years). This meant developing a system so that whatever a person asked could be processed and rendered with “Einstein’s voice” in near-real-time. It took some redrafts but eventually they were able get the response time down from 12 seconds to less than three.
It really shows the way to what conversational AI can be and goes far beyond chatbots or customer service,” said Aflorithmic. “Education can become more engaging and comprehensive, social commerce will help customers find the product that best fits their needs and even loneliness and therapy could be revolutionised by conversational AI. Voice cloning plays a major role in it.”
So, do you have any questions for Albert Einstein?