While Michael Phelps was making history in the pool,
TTS was making sure people heard about it
>>> On August 8, a white figure jumping out of a background of bright red blazed across
more than 2 billion television screens. Opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer
Olympic Games in Beijing had begun. For most viewers across the world, this emblem
simply signified the start of the games. However, for the 383 million people watching in
China, this character meant something much more complex.
The figure appeared to be a man running with his arms outstretched, but it was actu-
ally a stylized version of the character , the word for “capital” in Chinese. When
paired with the character , which means “north,” morphs into , the word
for Beijing. In the form of the red and white image, created by prominent Chinese graphic
designer Guo Chunning, the symbol means “dancing Beijing,” and its red background is
meant to evoke a seal symbolizing the promise of the city. The likeness to a person is
meant to capture the idea of a hero. The outstretched arms mean “welcome,” and the
curving lines represent the “form of a dragon.”
Imagine how you would say to capture its full meaning. Imagine how this would
sound in Chinese so that it could be understood by all speakers, many of whom speak
dialects that are mutually unintelligible.
Now imagine how would be spoken by your average text-to-speech (TTS) system.
• by Jessica Sebor •
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2008 Speech Technology | 27
AUTHORING SYNTHESIZED SPEECH
For an event that was expected to TTS support for those driving or unable simple. “We did not need to do anything
bring more than 2 million people to Bei- to read their screens. Bai notes that this fancy, as our TTS has been around for
jing, the city spent a great deal of time, was especially important due to road clos- many years and is the best on the market
energy, and money—a total of $40.9 mil- ings that changed daily. “The mapping for Chinese,” he says.
lion—to ensure it was prepared. A key- information was a very strong part—to be After the prototype was approved in
stone in this preparation was the goal able to tell you the traffic is being con- 2005 by the BOCOG, little customization
laid out in the Action Plan for the trolled so if you want to go here, you need was needed outside of providing addi-
Olympic Games, created by the Beijing to use this other road,” he says. tional TTS engines and completing test-
Organizing Committee for the Games of 2) Services for visitors to receive ing to ensure that the engines worked
the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG): “That information related to the games as well properly. “Very standard work,” Bai says.
anybody, at any time and in any place, as tourism support were also needed. However, to understand how it was
can enjoy the information service that is Delivered via kiosks set up around the possible for (Welcome to
affordable, comprehensive, personalized, city, on handhelds, and through the offi- Beijing) to be heard with a click of a but-
and multilingual.” cial Beijing Olympics Web site, iFlytek’s ton throughout China’s capital city on
This was no small task considering TTS was used to make this information August 8, we must look back several
the volume of information that had to accessible via audio delivery. decades to the creation of this technology
be delivered to staff, sponsors, volun- 3) Information and training services and back nearly 3,000 years at one of the
teers, athletes, guests, and tourists. To for volunteers needed to be delivered. oldest, most complex, and most rapidly
make good on its promise, Beijing Beijing recruited more than 5,000 volun- changing languages in the world today.
needed to have information available teers to support media operations, act as
not only visually, but audibly as well for VIP escorts, and provide translations, The Hurdles
those who could not read, could not see, medical help, directions, and more. TTS The first speech synthesis devices built
or were on the go. However, extremely was used in kiosks, call centers, and on a for a computer were developed in