If you have ever tried to train a parrot to talk, you know that it takes a long time and a lot of patience.
And once the bird has learned a phrase or two, it's not like it can carry on a conversation. It's basically an ornithological version of a tape recorder.
Well, a Canadian startup called Lyrebird has developed a parrot-like program that can mimic anyone's voice in about a minute. But then it does one better: the darn thing can actually talk.
It is also interesting, from a legal perspective, that the company knows its potential for abuse.
"Voice recordings are currently considered as strong pieces of evidence in our societies and in particular in jurisdictions of many countries," the company's website says. "Our technology questions the validity of such evidence as it allows to easily manipulate audio recordings."
In other words, and in better English, the Lyrebird could be trained to lie. By impersonating someone else, it could be used to provide false information.
"This could potentially have dangerous consequences such as misleading diplomats, fraud and more generally any other problem caused by stealing the identity of someone else," the company concedes.
Lyrebird is releasing its software, it said, to let everyone know that the technology exists and that "copying the voice of someone else is possible." In addition, the company wants to "raise attention about the lack of evidence that audio recordings may represent in the near future."
The possibility for abusing the technology is real and will likely be used to create novelty recordings, like celebrity voice-mail recordings. Publicity rights lawsuits are sure to follow.
But voice recordings will also be challenged in court, whether it is the racist rant of Mel Gibson or an abusive blast from Alec Baldwin. Some people fear even more serious problems.
"I'm not sure how I feel about the upcoming launch of Montreal-based Lyrebird's new service," writes Abhimanyu Ghoshal for TRW. "The company says its API will let you synthesize speech in anyone's voice from just a minute-long recording - which means you could, for instance, generate a clip of President Trump declaring war on Canada."
Ghoshal says the technology doesn't require recordings of particular words, just a voice. After that, Lyrebird can say anything you tell it.
So a hacker could record your voice-message and then use it against you?! Maybe it's time to train a parrot to answer the phone.