Ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, Apple has released a short film highlighting its accessibility features. The Lost Voice, directed by Thor: Love and Thunder and Jojo Rabbit director Taika Waititi, puts the spotlight on the Personal Voice feature, and tells the story of a young girl and her pink, gentle giant friend as they search for his missing voice.
But there’s a twist waiting at the end of the tale. As viewers find themselves in the little girl’s room where her wheelchair-bound grandfather reads her a bedtime story, it’s revealed that the latter isn’t actually speaking to her. Instead, the work is being done on an iPhone via Live Speech, with Personal Voice put to use during the creature’s narration.
Personal Voice was recently released as part of the iOS 17 update, and uses AI to create a replica of the user’s voice and store it on the phone. Essentially, it generates a synthesised voice that sounds like the user, and can be used to connect with others through iPhone speakers, FaceTime, as well as supported third-party apps.
The specially-built tool is designed for individuals who are losing speech capabilities because of degenerative abilities like ALS, more widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Here’s how it works — read a set of text prompts aloud for around 20 minutes on the iPhone or iPad, and a Personal Voice will be created. The feature is later integrated with Live Speech, allowing users to type what they want to say, and have their Personal Voice read it out.
That’s what Doctor Tristram Ingham, the narrator in the short, did to train his Personal Voice. The professor hailing from University of Otago, Wellington, in New Zealand has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), which causes progressive muscle degeneration starting in the face, shoulders, and arms and can ultimately lead to an inability to speak. He’s joined by an all-Kiwi cast in The Last Voice.
The film is an effective way to bring attention to its use, especially now that more users are recognising the need for and importance of accessibility. Personal Voice is stored locally by default, but can be shared across up to three devices with iCloud. The Lost Voice is also available as an eBook on Apple Books.