Google Acquires Phonetic Arts for Speech Synthesis

Google acquired speech synthesis startup Phonetic Arts. The search engine will likely use the software to improve voice output for mobile applications.

Google has acquired speech synthesis startup Phonetic Arts, whose software samples human speech and tailors it for computers, for an undisclosed sum.

Google is being typically hush-hush about what it will do with the Cambridge, U.K.-based startup's assets and talent, which will move to Google's London office.

"The Phonetic Arts team will join Google's existing efforts in speech technology to help drive innovation in the area of text-to-speech synthesis," a spokesperson told eWEEK, adding that Google will maintain relationships Phonetic Arts had with partners.

Google made significant strides in offering voice input software for mobile phones.

This includes Voice Search to let users speak Web searches, Voice Input to enable users to compose e-mails by voice and Voice Actions, which allow users to look up businesses by speaking into the phone instead of using the keyboards.

Google could use the speech synthesis created by Phonetic Arts to provide users with spoken answers to the results that pop up from their spoken searches.

In other words, Google would match voice output with the voice input from those apps. Google imagines a future where such voice output solutions will be accessible to everyone, for any form of spoken information, via computers, tablets and mobile phones.

Currently, Google Translate translates text in multiple languages and synthesizes human speech to provide people with navigation instructions in their native language as they drive.

Users speak into a microphone and their spoken words are shuttled to Google's cloud of parallel servers, then piped back down with the translation.

With additional speech synthesis, a user reading a menu that is foreign to him may take a picture of the words with Google Goggles from his mobile phone, then have a version of Google Translate augmented by speech synthesis speak the menu items to him.

With Phonetic Arts, Google is trying to curry the classic, robotic lilt with more human speech inflections and intonations.

Google Speech Technology Manager Mike Cohen likened the concept to Star Trek, where the actors speak to their computers, which speak like humans back to the people in a dialogue.

"We are excited about their technology, and while we don't have plans to share yet, we're confident that together we'll move a little faster toward that Star Trek future," Cohen concluded.

Read more about the deal on TechMeme here.