Computable Minds -

The first voice synthesizer

Posted on: May, 29th 2011
Kempelen machine reconstruction
Over two hundred years ago, in 1779, Christian Kartzenstein did 5 whistles that made blew the vowels artificially. Few years after, in 1791, Wolfgang von Kemplelen presented his "Acoustic-Mechanical Speech Machine" that we could consider the first voice synthesizer because it could produce isolated sounds and some sound combinations.

Kempleen began his work before Kratzenstein, in 1769 and, after 20 years of investigantion, published a book where he explain his studies about the human voice production and the made experiments with his machine, which probably it sounded like a kind of speaking trumpet. The esential pieces of the machine were: a bellows that simulated the lungs, a whistle that acted as the vocal cords, and a tube of leather to simulated the vocal tract.

Reconstruction by Wheatstone of the Kempelen's speech machine

Manipulating the form of the leather tube was possible produce different vocalic sounds. The consonant were simulated with four separated cranks and controled by the fingers. Previously to demonstration of von Kempelen, the laringe was considered as the center of the production of the voice, but his studies led him to the theory of that the principal points of the acoustic articulation were in the vocal tract, the cavities between the vocal cords and the lips.

Kempelen's chess automaton Unfortunatelly, the works of Kempelen had certain negative publicity due to that previously presented a machine that played chess, but really was an automaton controled by a midget hide inside of the table. This fact was discovered by an expert chess player and, although do something like that had merit at that time, his voice generating machine was no take it seriously.

Later appear more machine of this type, as the speech machine of Charles Wheatstone, of 1800, based in the machine of von Kempelen, which was a little more complicated and was capable of produce some completed words. After, in 1930, was began to do the first electronic synthesizers and, in 1950, the first synthesizers implemented in a computer, to arrive to our days, where we have very realistic synthesizers, but that are limited by the quality of the sound that can produce his speaker. The humans don't have that limitation, therefore, to achieve that the voice of the robots be in the distant future indistinguishable from the human voice, will put to them voice synthesizers based in the mechanical design of Kempelen.

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