Monday, July 18, 2011

123 Year Old Talking Head

John Stevens writing in The Daily Mail Online, 15 July 2011, has a story called "Voice of Thomas Edison's talking doll is heard again after 123 years as scientists crack the code of mysterious metal ring." He says: For decades it lay in the bottom of a secretary's desk drawer, its purpose unknown. But now, 123 year after it was made, the secret of this bent metal ring,which was found in Thomas Edison's laboratory, has finally been uncovered. Scientists have found that the microscopic grooves on the ring make up the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' and mark the world's first attempt at a talking doll and the dawn of America's recording industry. ... But the metal ring - about 2.5 inches around and half an inch wide - was so bent and damaged that scientists couldn't play it. More than four decades later, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, used image analysis to create a digital model of the record's surface. That model was then used to reproduce the recording as a digital file, not unlike the modern technology behind the voice that emerges from today's talking dolls."

Commenting on the story, IS regular, Gordon Ramsay, says: "There is a description of this doll in Scientific American around 1880. Interestingly enough, the first talking doll was patented by Maelzel in the 1820s, but unlike Edison's, it used a bellows and reeds, etc., to mimic the voice - so the same shift from mechanical synthesis to copy synthesis played out in dolls as well as humans (evolution repeating itself ;-) )."

Thanks and a hat tip to Robert Remez for pointing this story out to us.

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