002: Beautiful, like a ballerina.

Speech synthesis is the artificial reproduction of human speech. Current applications of speech synthesis technology, often referred to as "text-to-speech," first appeared in 1968. My introduction to text-to-speech came one afternoon in the late 1990s. As I waited for my sister to finish her turn on the family computer, I watched her put the final touches on a digital, theatrical play. She was playing a game called The American Girls Premiere, and I quickly learned that the objective was to create stage productions that existed in the American Girl universe. In your productions, you were allowed full creative control and could build from a catalog of historically accurate scenery, costumes, and props. The available characters consisted of the six original American Girls and a handful of extra, mainly adult characters. While every visual element of the game had a cartoon-like appearance, the characters were actually 16-bit video captures of real human actors. In addition to walking across the stage, their actions consisted of a small number of pre-recorded gestures, such as bowing, pointing, or folding their arms.

What captured my attention wasn't the thespian freedom the game allowed. Rather, it was while watching my sister type into a dialog box and then hear those words read aloud by one of the actors. It didn't matter that the digital voices sounded painfully lo-fi and borderline unintelligible; I had to play.

Once it was my turn to use the computer, I waited until my sister left the room and rebooted the American Girl's Premiere. I quickly taught myself the absolute minimum effort necessary to create my own play. I didn't care about the setting, time period or which characters I wanted to use. All that mattered was hearing the computer say whatever I typed.

For the following days that I played the American Girls Premiere, I only ever created one production. It was called "Name Your Play.” Under unfortunate circumstances, the only audience to ever witness my play consisted of my sister, my mom and myself. The plot was simple—every available character was lined up across an empty stage and took turns reciting combinations of "fuck" and "shit." It received terrible reviews and resulted in me being banned from using the computer for a week, and from ever playing The American Girls Premiere again.

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