Jul 17, 2023

As Chatbots Get Better at Pronouncing Names, Hany Farid Weighs In

From The Atlantic

A Voicebot Just Left Me Speechless

By Saahil Desai

It’s not that hard to say my name, Saahil Desai. Saahil: rhymes with sawmill, or at least that gets you 90 percent there. Desai: like decide with the last bit chopped off. That’s really it.

More often than not, however, my name gets butchered into a menagerie of gaffes and blunders. The most common one, Sa-heel, is at least an honest attempt—unlike its mutant twin, a monosyllabic mess that comes out sounding like seal. Others defy all possible logic. Once, a college classmate read my name, paused, and then confidently said, “Hi, Seattle...”

Computers can now say so many more names than just my own. “I noticed the same thing the other day when my student and I created a recording on ElevenLabs of CNN’s Anderson Cooper saying ‘Professor Hany Farid is a complete and total dips**t’ (it’s a long story),” Hany Farid, a UC Berkeley computer scientist, wrote in an email. “I was surprised at how well it pronounced my name. I’ve also noticed that it correctly pronounces the names of my non-American students.” Other tricky names I tested also fared well: ElevenLabs nailed Lupita Nyong’o and Timothée Chalamet, although it turned poor Pete Buttigieg’s last name into a very unfortunate Buttygig...

Read the full article.

Hany Farid is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and the School of Information at UC Berkeley.

headshot of Hany Farid
Hany Farid (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small for the School of Information)

Last updated:

July 18, 2023