Wick Communications

‘Open the pod bay doors, HAL’

In Editing on 11 Apr 2013 at 3:25 pm


In the Stanley Kubrick classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” astronaut Dr. Dave Bowman has a disquieting conversation with the HAL 9000 computer that powers his ship in deep space. When the HAL goes haywire and kills the crew, Bowman attempts to shut down the computer and escape via a personal pod thingy.

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” HAL answers, in a way that makes clear the computer has a mind of its own.

In “2013: A Newsroom,” my HAL is a Macbook Pro. And the voice that comes from it goes by the name, “Alex.”

I really never thought much about my computer’s Text to Speech technology until Sierra Vista Herald Publisher Phil Vega pointed me toward this. Now I’m a little bit blown away.

Chip Scanlan at Poynter is suggesting using the technology as an editing tool. Scanlan notes that stupid mistakes make their way into our copy no matter what we do. We read carefully, hand it to an editor, proof the pages after that and still we’re leaving out words, repeating words and other dumb stuff. The idea is that, by listening to Alex read my story, I’ll hear mistakes I may not have read. …

It took me a minute to figure out how to configure my computer to do this. In the case of a Mac with OS X, you go to System Preferences > Dictation and Speech > Text to Speech, then select a voice and click “speak selected text.” After that, I simply highlight any text and click Option+Esc, and Alex does the rest. If you have trouble with it, give me a call and we’ll see if we can’t figure it out.

I haven’t used it much. But I think it can be most useful for those of us who sometimes work too fast and subsequently read right over mistakes. Some suggest it may be most useful for photographers and others who aren’t really word people.

Oh, if you want to keep your friends in the office, use headphones.

And here’s a coincidence: I wrote this on April 4, the day Roger Ebert died. I was stopped in my tracks when I noticed that “Alex” was Ebert’s Mac-generated voice after cancer rendered him speechless. Obviously, Text to Speech has more important uses than editing newspaper stories.

Give it a try. The future is here.

— Clay


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