April 21st, 2014 Heath Ahrens of iSpeech sends text messages as if he were Obama, Bush and Schwarzenegger


Why do people buy stickers when they can Google a photo (and just turn it into a sticker)? It’s a rhetorical question from Heath Ahrens, the CEO and founder of iSpeech.org, the guest at the NUI (natural user interface) community meetup at WeWork Labs last April 21.


It was a setup for his talk about TalkZ, a speech-recognition talking sticker (png file) and a new UI for messaging that uses both text and voice in every message. What’s interesting is how he has used the voices of public figures, admittedly a gray area. But aren’t public figures fair game when you consider that Ahrens is not even monetizing it?

Still, you got to hear it to believe it, as Ahrens demonstrated in front of us, to the audience’s delight. Simply download at the Apple store (no Android or Windows version yet) and test how Obama, Bush, Schwarzenegger sounds likes in your text message to a friend, with a sticker to boot. You won’t believe your ears.

Speech recognition has certainly come a long way, although Ahrens is quick to point out that it still can’t do Shakespeare. “Statistical models can't read Shakespeare,” he said.

Ahrens also talked about how UI in voice has remained a challenge in public. Barking commands at your phone in public is still unnatural, for one, but that’s also how Ahrens came to think of effective UIs for his products.

Before TalkZ, Ahrens started iSpeech the company back in 2007. It provides human quality text-to-speech and speech recognition solutions to consumers, developers and businesses worldwide.

The quality of text to human speech on iSpeech is so natural, even it is speaking 30 languages, doing SMS dictation or serving as a personal assistant.

Ahrens said the idea came to him back in 2007 when he wondered, “What if you could text-speech while driving, which resulted in DriveSafe.ly, an mobile messaging app aimed at curbing distracted driving.

 DriveSafe.ly reads your text messages and emails it out loud, so you can concentrate on the road. It reads and automatically responds to you. And you can respond by voice.

Downloaded well over 20 million times since September of 2009, DriveSafe.ly users have reportedly heard and spoken over a billion messages.

But what is the future of messaging? If WhatsApp was acquired for $19 billion, shouldn’t there be more developments in the user experience of mobile messaging? New clever uses of multimodal technology should emerge soon.

Today, over 12,000 developers have reportedly signed up for iSpeech to power their applications, appliances, automobiles, websites and platforms.