The voice of Darth Vader in 'Obi-Wan'? James Earl Jones and a little AI

September 29, 2022 | By Anthony Venutolo

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The Sith Lord will now be voiced by artificial intelligence. James Earl Jones has given his approval for filmmakers to use previous voice recordings of Darth Vader in upcoming Lucasfilm projects, according to Vanity Fair. The company is using  artificial intelligence synthetic speech technology to reproduce the 91-year-old's younger voice from earlier projects.

Those audible traits now lay in the hands of a Ukrainian startup called Respeecher, which is using its tech to craft new conversations from those original Jones recordings.

The Disney+ series "The Book of Boba Fett," for which Respeecher reproduced the voice of young Luke Skywalker, marked the start of its collaboration with Lucasfilm. Respeecher was also tasked with creating the Darth Vader lines for Disney+ series "Obi-Wan Kenobi," which debuted in 2021.

The fresh recordings were set to be created by synthetic speech artist Bogdan Belyaev, but that was derailed when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Matthew Wood, a supervising sound editor at Lucasfilm, told Vanity Fair the company’s main concern was for the safety of the startup’s employees: “There are always alternatives that we could pursue that wouldn’t be as good as what they would give us. We never wanted to put them in any kind of additional danger to stay in the office to do something.”

But the startup persisted. Respeecher's CTO and co-founder Dmytro Bielievtsov hunkered down in his makeshift headquarters in a theater with tables and stacks of books barricading the windows from blasts. Programmers and editors trained the AI to replicate Vader from the hallways of their apartments, and one huddled over a laptops in a basement the size of a crawl space.

For safety reasons, Wood started to curb some of his notes to the team in Ukraine, but he says their attitude was, "Let’s work, let’s work in the face of this adversity, let’s persevere.”

Respeecher CEO Alex Serdiuk told the magazine that the company’s resilience could shine a light on what his country can offer Silicon Valley: “Hopefully more people will hear about Ukraine — about our tech community, about our startups.”

A ‘Pinocchio’ moment for tiny robots

Researchers at Cornell University have equipped tiny solar-powered robots — 100-250 micrometers smaller than the head of an ant — with electronic brains that allow these critters to roam surfaces without being controlled. 

Micro-robots can already crawl, swim, walk and fold themselves up, but getting them to move has always required outside help — wires to provide electrical current, or.

"Before, we literally had to manipulate these 'strings' in order to get any kind of response from the robot," physical professor Itai Cohen told Cornell’s news website. "But now that we have these brains on board, it's like taking the strings off the marionette. It's like when Pinocchio gains consciousness."

The team's paper, "Microscopic Robots with Onboard Digital Control," was published September 21 in Science Robotics.

So why even develop these crawlers in the first place? This innovation will pave the way for the next generation of microscopic tech that can, for example, detect chemicals, track bacteria, remove contaminants, perform microsurgery, and clean plaque from arteries.

"Eventually, the ability to communicate a command will allow us to give the robot instructions, and the internal brain will figure out how to carry them out," Cohen said.

While the day-to-day deployment of these tiny bots are still years away, this project hints that they are technically feasible. So don’t whip out that can of Raid just yet.

Talk about your hot tune

Have an older laptop still running Windows XP? Probably not. But Raymond Chen, Microsoft’s chief software engineer, shared a quirky story from the Cretaceous era of computing that will have you questioning your taste in music.

"A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' would crash certain models of laptops," he wrote in a Microsoft blog posted last month, Even weirder? Playing the music video on a laptop could even cause those nearby to crash.

So why Janet Jackson? After all, there are plenty of artists who could make a dog howl, cats screech and yes, hard drives melt.

"It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 RPM laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used," he wrote. The affected laptops were shipped in 2005, according to a vulnerability report filed by The Mitre Corporation.

It's all fun and games, though, until someone gets hacked. A main concern, according to Mitre, was a security flaw that might allow an attacker to use the audio signal from "Rhythm Nation" to force the system to crash.

Thankfully, these days we can continue streaming Ms. Jackson to our heart’s content on PCs. Chen wrote that modern laptops won't suffer from the same fate because Microsoft added "a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback."

Now … if only there was a custom filter for every time we're being Rickrolled.

Anthony Venutolo, Manager, Global Communications