When we were first introduced to Siri, not many people were overly excited. After all, an artificial voice (or a synthetic one) had been done before. What should have impressed us was really the intelligence behind it. The way we embraced Siri was with a bit of skepticism. Making a computer talk like a real human has always been a task that humans have found appealing. We have come a long way since we first heard a computer utter a few words, but how far?
The first attempt at making a computer talk dates back several decades. Of course, the quality of the speech was nothing compared to what we are able to produce today. However, in 1974 someone attempted to order a pizza by solely using an artificial voice generated from a computer. As anyone might imagine, the initial result was that the person who answered the phone hung up since it took a long time for the computer to generate the artificial voice responses. But as the video says, eventually someone took it seriously enough to make computer history.
The computer doing the calling is called Alexander, and it was developed by engineers at the Artificial Language Lab at Michigan State University. Since their first stumbling attempts to order a pizza with an artificial voice failed miserably, they had to come up with another approach. Instead of instantly trying to order a pizza, they programmed Alexander’s artificial voice to present himself and tell the person on the other end that he used an assisting artificial audio device to help him communicate. That along with telling the person that he had to be patient lead to a successful pizza order.
The interesting thing is that even though the computers were infinitely less powerful then, and of course a whole lot less human-like, they still managed to make the person on the other end believe a real person was connected to the artificial voice generated by the computer. So was the pizza actually delivered? Yes, the pizza arrived at the Artificial Language Lab and the project was a success. Too bad though that Domino’s chance to make history went down the drain the same second the guy taking the order hung up the phone.