I Am Very, Very Creeped Out by Apple’s Personal Voice Feature

Apple Personal Voice

Today, for the first time ever, I listened to my voice saying a phrase I’d never said out loud before. You see, I was using a new iPhone feature called Personal Voice, available on the latest Apple software, iOS 17 and iPadOS 17. I’d seen some articles online about Personal Voice and wanted to try it for myself.

Before I get into it what it was like for me, a little bit about Personal Voice. The feature uses AI to create an artificial generation of your voice. It’s an accessibility feature meant for people who are at risk of losing their voices or who have speech difficulties. You simply type into it what you want it to say, and it’ll read the phrase out loud – in your voice.

So, how did it work for me? Well, firstly, I had to get to the latest iPhone software, iOS 17, which is currently in public beta testing. Once I had it downloaded (while on WiFi), I went into Settings, then Accessibility and scrolled down to find Personal Voice.

Then I tapped Create a Personal Voice, and the process began. It took about 30 minutes to create my Personal Voice, which is 29 minutes longer than I thought it would. I’m not going to lie: It was a mind-numbingly tedious process that, unfortunately, I had to fully concentrate on.

Image: Apple

I had to read out 150 phrases that showed up on the screen, as my voice was recorded into the iPhone. Phrases like “This is the common name of a group of plants with large, handsome flowers”, “Have you ever tried yoga?” and “Of course I’m angry! You dropped an old hammer on my lap!”.

I’m guessing the different types of phrases — statements, questions, exclamations — were likely to understand my voice inflections. Once I reached phrase #150, I still wasn’t done — my phone needed time to process my Personal Voice — so, I left it plugged into the charger and with the screen locked.

I did this overnight and, when I woke, saw a notification that my Personal Voice had been set up. To finalise the setup, I went to Accessibility again, then Live Speech, toggled On, and then selected my newly-created Personal Voice in Voices.

Image: Apple

To use it, I triple-clicked the Side button. A prompter popped up with “Type to Speak”. I entered a phrase, hit Send and then heard my phone say it out loud — in my voice. While it didn’t sound as casual as I’d like to think I’d sound normally — it was more robotic — it was still a strange experience listening to my own voice, saying a phrase I’d never said out loud before.

How I feel about the new tech is exactly how TechRadar writer Philip Berne wrote he felt: “I’m excited about the future for people who need assistive technology like this, but I can’t help but also be very, very frightened of what this means for fraud and fakery.”

Later in the article, Berne points out that the arrival of this tech requires us to adapt to it so that we avoid scams.

“We need to have code words and secret phrases and memories that only the two of us [him and his father] share, ready to prove our own identities,” he writes. “People need to know that this technology is here, and we should only use it with appropriate reservations.”

Apple has done much on its end to prevent frauds. Once somebody creates a Personal Voice, it’s encrypted and stored securely on-device. And, to use a Personal Voice, the user must unlock their Apple device with Face ID, Touch ID or the device passcode. Apple devices without passcodes cannot create Personal Voice.

Also, to record a Personal Voice in the first place, it’s done with prompts in real-time. In other words, you can’t create a Personal Voice by uploading previously created recordings.

Apple Personal Voice
Image: Apple

In addition to being used by folks who’ve lost their voice — and I know this is morbid — I imagine the tech could also be used by the loved ones of those who know they’re dying. They could set up a Personal Voice on a loved one’s phone so that that person might be able to use it to say phrases in their voice after their passing. Phrases like, “Happy birthday” and “I miss you too”. And that for someone, might be life-changing.

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