back to article Lyrebird steals your voice to make you say things you didn't – and we hate this future

Hastening the arrival of a world in which simulation is indistinguishable from reality, startup Lyrebird has announced plans to power up an online service that can imitate a person's voice. Given roughly a minute of voice samples from a specific person, the upstart's system can, via an API, convert supplied text into spoken …

  1. Andy Non

    And some banks are starting to use

    voice recognition to authenticate your identity and log you into your online bank account. Sounds like a good idea.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: And some banks are starting to use

      Yes - I hit the comment button to suggest that someone needs to point this out to the likes of HSBC.

      Then next time you call, no more passwords... you'll just need to repeat that short, simple phrase.

      Don't worry about remembering it - we'll tell you whoever wants to get into your account what to make their system say each time.

      1. Notas Badoff

        Re: And some banks are starting to use

        And so engage the bank spokes-organ in a minute or two of conversation ending with the question "do you bank here also?". Then ask if they know the famous quote by Richelieu, mentioning that that now equates to roughly a minutes conversation.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And some banks are starting to use

        Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!

        Voice recognition is not perfect so there will be some leaway for inventive people.

        Also it will need to be able to handle if you have a cold or something that changes your voice in some way.

        Too strict and it will not work most of the time, too lax and a good recording or mimic may get away with being accepted.

        As usual if any money does go from your account the banks will claim it cannot be 'tricked' so the loss is not real and you are attempting fraud.

        1. PNGuinn

          Re: And some banks are starting to use

          The Inland Revenue are trialling voice recognition as an "additional" security.

          I put it off last time by making the most 'orrible distressed animal noises. Computer probably thought I was from the north east or Luvverpule and eventually gave up.

          "Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!"

          Can I make the IR my ex IR?

        2. King Jack

          Re: Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!

          Just don't use that service. For example I don't do internet banking and never authorized it, so no one can use it access my account. That is all anyone need do. Let them be 'hip' with someone else's money.

          1. VinceH Silver badge

            Re: Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!

            "Just don't use that service."

            Exactly, yes. I use HSBC, but this ridiculous offering won't affect me. It's a telephone banking thing, and I don't use telephone banking.

            If they were make it compulsory for everyone to provide a voice sample, even if they don't use telephone banking, I'd be off like a shot - but dictionaries would have to define a whole new level of stupid to fit that in.

            1. druck Silver badge

              Re: Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!

              I had to phone HSBC when my old phone died in order to re-enable the security app on my new phone. At the end of the call they suggested I might want to try voice recognition for phone banking, despite the fact they'd spent the last 10 minutes struggling to understand me because I'd almost lost my voice completely with tonsillitis.

        3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: And some banks are starting to use

          Funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) you should mention this. I recently called my credit card company (Citibank) to resolve a small matter, and the last thing the woman asked me was "we're using voice authentication now, would you like to authorize this on your account?". I thought about it, and replied "No." But it would have been a lot less thinking and a lot stronger "no", had I known about this.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: And some banks are starting to use

      @Andy Non




    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: And some banks are starting to use

      Only just starting? Nuance has been selling the technology since the early 2000's. Even then the technology was able to analysis speech patterns, tone and inflexions and so effectively could provide continuous voice authentication of natural language interactions.

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Oh joy... so the bad Sci-Fi movies are coming true. I guess we're about to be screwed, used, and abused by marketing types and miscreants. This really won't be a "good thing" no matter how the corporate hype and BS spins it.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      About to be?

  3. Wokstation

    My voice. is my. passport

    Verify. Me!

    1. datafabric

      Re: My voice. is my. passport

      sneakers...can't believe I identify that phrase right away...90's tech then?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: My voice. is my. passport

        Pah, in the 1960ies all you needed to break into the computer system of a large multinational corporation was the right kind of bucket.

    2. FuzzyWuzzys
      Thumb Up

      Re: My voice. is my. passport

      Still one of my favourites. A nice gental sci-fi film that doesn't blind you with science and doesn't blind you with CGI, you even feel a little sorry for two main protagonists. I think I know what I'll be watching this coming Saturday afternoon.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: My voice. is my. passport

        "and doesn't blind you with CGI" - You remember that the techie guy was blind, don't you?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My voice. is my. passport


        Was it a "nice genital sci-fi film" or a "nice gentle sci-fi film"?

        Perhaps it wasn't CGI causing blindness.

        1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

          Re: My voice. is my. passport

          Bah! Barney Collier wannabes, the lot of them!

  4. JustsomeBlokeinAz

    Here come the Phone Scams

    Bad enough that scammers try to get you recorded saying Yes to anything so they can splice it in as evidence of your confirmation on anything they want. Now they could easily go to someone's youtube video/rant, run it through, and basically own you for evidence when you dispute the fact that you did order 2 tons of creamed corn...

    1. John H Woods

      Re: Here come the Phone Scams

      "Bad enough that scammers try to get you recorded saying Yes to anything so they can splice it in as evidence of your confirmation on anything they want."

      Mains hum (edit: as mentioned by Number 6 below) and background noise are your friends here. I bought my new bathroom with court winnings shared with me by a friend who relied on my evidence (using Audacity) that the same "yes" had been reused multiple times in a faked recording of her agreeing to a contract.

      But I'm not sure faking voices has ever been that hard, many people can quite effectively mimic other people: I'd be interested to now how reliable voiceprints were against talented impersonators.

  5. Number6

    For real forensic stuff, there is a team in the UK that records the low-level mains hum which is present on recordings made in the UK. It is apparently a pretty unique fingerprint in that if you claim a recording was made at a particular date and time, they can process it to see whether the hum is (a) continuous (i.e. not made up of spliced samples) and (b) matches the fluctuations for that date and time. I don't know if they can take a recording and tell you when it was made though, that sounds like a lot of computing power to correlate.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I seem to remember an item on TV that stated that they could effectively use the mains hum as a timestamp. They are recording the mains hum continuously and can match the hum on a recording with a timeframe. They demonstrated that they could prove that a recording was of the person claimed BUT was not taken at the time claimed.

      i.e. Instructions given over the phone and automatically recorded as proof of an action had in fact been recorded after the event and had the timestamp changed on the digital recording.

    2. Nifty

      @low level hum analysis to reveal voice synthesis

      I can imagine the low level hum being difficult to forensically prove, not least because it'll be heavily filtered by narrow audio bandwidth of the call.

      Will banks have to mandate that you watermark all your calls to them by using a phone app that plays a sound behind your voice? Don't forget, scammers can add such sounds and hum after processing the fake voice...

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Other than "Because it's a really tricky puzzle to solve" there are very few legitimate uses.

    But plenty of illegitimate uses.

    People will have to get a lot more suspicious of anything recorded on any media.

    "Belief half of what you see, and none of what you hear" as Marvin Gaye sang.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Other than "Because it's a really tricky puzzle to solve" there are very few legitimate uses.

      I can see it getting used in games to allow the writers to keep writing/editing dialogue without having to get a human to come in and record it each time.

  7. Diodelogic

    At Least the name sounds right (especially for politicians)


  8. ma1010 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Just curious

    What possible GOOD could something like this do? I see lots of downside with this technology, but no real upside. Why do it?

    I hope these clowns don't invent a simple way to (say) rebuild an old TV into a powerful bomb or make large quantities of poison gas from common groceries. They'd likely publish it to world+dog instantly.

    1. Mephistro Silver badge

      Re: Just curious

      "...or make large quantities of poison gas from common groceries."

      I claim prior art! (It's called cabbage.)

      1. Winkypop Silver badge

        Re: Just curious

        "It's called cabbage"

        Or in concealed carry format: Brussel sprouts

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Just curious

      This reminds me of the minor moral panic that happened when Photoshop first became popular. Apparently criminal types were going to get up to all sorts of shenanigans with this terrible new power. Instead, instead it just killed in popular consciousness the always stupid notion that the camera doesn't lie.

  9. John H Woods

    "What possible GOOD could something like this do? I see lots of downside with this technology, but no real upside. Why do it?"

    Would you prefer people with these abilities kept it quiet and used it for personal (illicit) gain? Keeping quiet about this sort of capability when (some) banks are experimenting with voice recognition security would be immoral, in my opinion.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Recently on radio I heard about a woman who's losing her voice and she wants to have a close copy produced by machine if that's the best alternative. So that's an application.

      In fact I lost my voice last week due to a severe cold, then realised it is quite difficult to get medical attention, especially in a remote consultation, without speaking. I don't know what people do in this situation’; I found an online text inquiry service, but it turns out that they charge quite a high fee, including for membership that isn't mentioned particularly prominently.

    2. lorisarvendu

      [Ian Malcolm] Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should! [/Ian Malcolm]

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Lyrebird's simulated politicians already sound fairly convincing"

    That's OK, then. We shouldn't have too much trouble spotting them.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very clever idea .... not !!!

    A digital media technique looking for a misuse, yet again. :(

    A Phishers/Whalers dream come true.

    Current efforts targeting the CFO's of companies to transfer funds to 'new'/'changed' accounts on the say so of people pretending to be the CEO or their PA etc can now be more convincing by providing a Telephone confirmation from the CEO.

    Just you wait it WILL happen one day.

  12. Steve Knox

    "The startup suggests there is a wide range of applications for the technology..."

    ...up to three of which may even be ethical!

  13. bombastic bob Silver badge

    Good news everyone!

    I saw this capability abused on Futurama by the Professor's clone-son.

    (why anyone would want to use this in any OTHER manner, other than crime, is news to me)

    now, a good 'vocaloid' system that has no robotic accent - I'd like that

  14. scarper

    Hmm. The 1975 John Brunner novel that coined the term "worm" also had a journalist who "interviewed" politicians, complete with live simulated video, and scripted live voice. And now here it comes.

  15. Sierpinski

    I see your "Sneakers" in 1992 and raise you "The Chipmunk Adventure" in 1987.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      I see your "The Chipmunk Adventure" in 1987 and raise you "Green Ice" in 1981...

      1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Mission: Impossible: Splicing audiotapes to make the bad guys open the prison gates since 1966

  16. Mage Silver badge

    Program for a puppet

    First published October 1st 1981, Program for a puppet (Roland Perry), envisages a puppet US president and shadowy people using computer tools to fake voice recordings.

    I don't remember it in Brunner's "Shockwave Rider" (1975 and had computer worms as well as Ritalin type drugging of most people.)

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Program for a puppet

      Also more recently used in Equilibrium (2002), to fake the voice and video of a world leader as they issued orders.

      Good Action film actually...

      1. Jay 2

        Re: Program for a puppet

        My main problem with that film is that it gives the impression that the drug completely surpresses all emotions etc. And I recall that because of that some bits of the plot didn't make much sense. But in some cast/crew chat they refined that to be that it mostly surpresses emotions etc. That made a lot more sense, but they didn't make it at all obvious in the film.

    2. Alan J. Wylie

      Re: Program for a puppet

      Program for a puppet (Roland Perry)

      <googles> - Ah - not the Roland Perry who worked on Amstrad computers, but an Australian author.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ring ring...

    Hello Mrs wife, this is your Mr Husband Frank here, please be telling me my banking passwords again...

  18. DavCrav Silver badge

    "The deception isn't perfect. The voice samples provided sound processed and often the phrasing sounds off."

    This is true, but if you go to the demo page from Lyrebird and scroll down, there are a set of clips of Donald Trump 'saying' "I am not a robot, my intonation is always different." Each time the computer makes the clip, it uses a different intonation, some of which sound wrong. Just make it ten times and use the best intonation, if you are trying to fool people.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      no need...

      no need to make 10 clips of Donald Trump if you're trying to fool people. Just play back any of his campaign promises, and you've already fooled half of the American voting population...

  19. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Our technology questions the validity of such evidence"

    Don't think so. You're tech may be able to fool Joe Public (not a really difficult task), but proper scientists will carve the inconsistencies and aberrations of your pathetic attempts to fool them before they've even finished their morning coffee.

    I read somewhere (a good while ago) that scientists had determined that the human voice has some form of signal that can be recognized whether or not the person has a cold, is sick or not. I am quite sure that, if science is capable of determining that unique quality in a person's voice, no amount of computer trickery will be able to pass that check.

    Wait and see, I guess.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: "Our technology questions the validity of such evidence"

      And what's so special about it that no computer can replicate it? Sounds to me like they've found the closest thing yet to the Lens.

    2. Just Enough
      Big Brother

      Re: "Our technology questions the validity of such evidence"

      You are off message with New Alternative Facts Reality.

      No-one cares what "proper scientists" think. The public have had enough with experts. Truth is what is liked by one of your mates on facebook. Anecdotal opinion is every bit as good as years of verified research. Facts are boring, its the feels that matter. You may reject reality if it is inconvenient.

  20. Gringo99

    I said it before

    with the face manipulation program, and this is no difference: porn.

    This has the added "benefit" that could be used also for erotic hotlines.

    Would any famous person agree? most likely not (well, maybe someone; Kardashians anyone? - as if there was a need for that!).

    But again, Internet is full of fake celebrities porn pictures (or so they I've been told).

    1. aks Bronze badge

      Re: I said it before

      Not only porn.

      New movies by Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, etc.

      The Queen, indistinguishable from the real thing.

      Younger versions of older actors.

      You, starring in your own game alongside your favourite character. Even easier if done as an animation.

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: I said it before

        Already been done.

        (And on a similar, but less demanding, score: remember those Holsten ads with Griff Rhys Jones?

        Or "Zelig"?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The startup suggests there is a wide range of applications

    "Don't go there!", I want to say in an awful imiatation of a terminator doing a perfect imitation of a mother's voice.

    The first application would be software with call scamming voices

    The second application will be software analyzing the abovementioned call scamming voice (pay extra to subscribe to a premium version in order to increase the accuracy from 89.75% to 91.43%

    The third application will be software recognizing software analyzing the abovementioned call scamming voice (pay extra to not only recognize, but most importantly, DEFEAT such software, with our one-off daily service charge.

    The fourth application will be... The third application, the third application will be the government, telling you in heavenly voices, that no matter what, you should not leave your home and join the evil-doers trying to overthrow the government.

    The fifth application... never mind, truly, a wide range of applications, I'm sure they'll be snatched by a Do No Evil Corp or such once they manage to inflate their asking price enough.

  22. Robert D Bank


    A very dangerous idea. Wouldn't be surprised if the equivalent has been in use by state agencies for some time.

    But, if any of my banks want to exploit this or ANY other biometric technology it's bye bye from me.

  23. King Jack

    Wesley Crusher

    Old news. Wesley Crusher used a device to clone the Captains voice to take control of the Enterprise. Seeing as Fiction is used a guide for modern living (1984), you'd think they would know this is a foolish idea based on Star Trek. Or perhaps that is why they are doing it.

  24. Moosh

    A whole new wave of erotica

    Think of it: any celebrity you want whispering sweet nothings into your ears; talking dirty; playing out the most depraved and/or niche sexual fantasies you could possibly imagine. Want them to talk about you being a furry inflated blueberried baby they're about to eat? No problem!

  25. User McUser

    One upside to this...

    Finally I can have a computer that sounds like Majel Barrett!

    But that should be the only legal use of this software.

    OK, maybe also William Daniels for my talking car.

  26. Sam Therapy

    Trusting fools

    This could get interesting very quickly.

    People will tend to trust something they have been told is genuine, even when it's demonstrably compromised, or been shown to be total bollocks. So called Lie Detectors, for example, have no scientific validity, yet many people still think they work.

    At the very least, (Insert politician/public figure of your choice here) can always claim they never said such a thing and that it was created by this simulator. It's been - in theory - possible to put together fake speeches by using tape editing and sampling but this tech makes it much more convenient.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Re: And some banks are starting to use

    BBC fools HSBC voice recognition security system

    See this link

    Case proved re: my previous comment below about Banks :)

    **Re: And some banks are starting to use**


    Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!

    Voice recognition is not perfect so there will be some leaway for inventive people.


    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: And some banks are starting to use

      "Any bank offering this will become very quickly my ex-bank !!!"

      And what happens when (not if) EVERY bank offers this? Will it be back to cash under the mattress?

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