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Text-To-Speech in 1846 Involved a Talking Robotic Head With Ringlets
Meet the Euphonia, a machine that boasted the ability to replicate human speech.


The Euphonia was the product of 25 years of research and an undeniably impressive feat of engineering. Fourteen piano keys controlled the articulation of the Euphonia's jaw, lips, and tongue while the roles of the lungs and larynx were performed by a bellows and an ivory reed. The operator could adjust the pitch and accent of the Euphonia's speech by turning a small screw or inserting a tube into its nose. It was reported that it took Faber seven long years simply to get his machine to correctly pronounce the letter e. ...

The answer may lie in a thought experiment put forth by the roboticist Mashahiro Mori in 1970. Mori proposed that “as [a] robot became more human-like there would first be an increase in its acceptability and then as it approached a nearly human state there would be a dramatic decrease in acceptance.” This dip in public approval represents a Goldilocks zone for robotic anthropomorphism: Robots who find themselves in it are simultaneously too human and not human enough. Faber's Euphonia seemed to have gotten lost somewhere in what Mori called “the Uncanny Valley.” ...

Sigmund Freud defined the uncanny as “that class of terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”  The Euphonia, in spite of its familiar and quintessentially human ability to speak, was still undeniably inhuman; A mechanical imposter in a rubber mask.







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