Google announced this morning that it has acquired U.K.-based speech synthesis company Phonetic Labs in an effort to "move a little faster towards that Star Trek future" where computers don't only listen, but they talk back, too.
The company has been on a roll this year, introducing a number of features involving real-time translation, voice commands and captioning, and this acquisition looks to continue that effort.
Unlike most of its other speech and language technologies, which involve the inputting of language, this acquisition is directed at the output of speech. That is, turning text into audible language. Phonetic Arts offers a "technology that generates natural expressive speech, allowing computer games to say any sentence in any type of voice."
According to Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch, the technology specially allows you to record a speech library, which can then be used to piece together new sentences which sound "surprisingly realistic."
If you've ever tried any of those apps that will read you your email as you drive, then you know how poor some speech synthesis technology still is. With Google's continual focus on mobile, we expect that this technology will be used in creating a true hands-free integration for smartphones, as well as making advancements in accessibility.
As Google points out, "In Star Trek, they don't spend a lot of time typing things on keyboards--they just speak to their computers, and the computers speak back." We're just a few steps away from this reality ourselves and Google seems a likely company to guide us there.