In a matter of hours, social networks have been filled with videos that demonstrate the unthinkable: we Spaniards know how to speak perfect English and, furthermore, we have been doing so for decades. Through the use of artificial intelligence, different applications that have become popular in recent days translate voices from one language to another with just the click of a button.
This has opened the season and a multitude of reinterpreted jokes and memes, excerpts from political speeches or iconic scenes from film and television translated into English are already raining down. It is the most common language but there are many more options: from Arabic to Japanese, including Vietnamese, Georgian or also the Spanish co-official languages, such as Galician or Catalan.
Such has been the furor that these applications have collapsed due to the number of users who wanted to try the service. Although in recent months artificial intelligence has been one of the main topics of conversation – wondering what future this technology holds for us – this time the sense of humor has prevailed.
But it’s not all jokes. We will have to wait a while to assess the implications it may have for unions such as voice actors and announcers or the consequences it may cause in the legislative and artistic fields. Experts urge regulation of these types of tools and demand transparency, because the questions continue to increase: Does our voice tone belong to us? Can ‘sound rights’ be claimed? What will happen to our personal data?
Meanwhile, here we gather some representatives of the most traditional Spain, now with a ‘British’ accent.
The absolute king of gas station cassettes, for many the most original joke teller of the 20th century in Spain, will of course be an inexhaustible source of reformulations into English. It is more than likely that we will get bored soon, but we can dream: why wouldn’t a guy from Southampton discover this enormous material and give the Barcelona comedian a second life of triumphs?
The 2018 documentary about his figure revealed to us a turbulent man, at times undesirable, but in any case he is the author of a unique style and provider of a thousand good times. Of course, never in English until now, twenty years after his death. We could remind him of his own joke: “Do you speak English?” “Diu…well, if he’s short and lets…”
The best-known and loved taxi driver in Spain was called José Luis Cantero, but with the automatic translation he almost looks like a Madrid-style Paul Simon. In the video he explains the origin of the song and the concept of mannanga, but we do not know if they are prepared beyond our borders to understand the deep meaning of the term, with or without translation.
In this case we can also see the difficulties of the AI when several voices are mixed and noises appear – in the fragment of the recreation -, even generating a moment of very unpleasant white noise. The Fary lives, some would say, and still resists these technologies.
Lola Flores has also been reinterpreted by this technology, although to be fair her voice was already synthesized—in Spanish—for that much-discussed advertisement for a well-known beer brand. AI has an amazing ability to find what makes people’s timbre unique, but there is still not much left – the possibility of implementing accents, for example if we wanted to go from English to Spanish with a Mano, Murcia or Extremadura accent. Are we heading towards a world where someone from Córdoba can listen to Brad Pitt as if he were their neighbor?
Fernando Fernan Gomez
Being one of the most recognizable and respected voices in the recent history of Spain, for the average ear to identify the timbre of Fernando Fernán Gómez is instantaneous. Now in English, we see how the machine has a hard time matching the beats exactly to make a more perfect dubbing.
The Renaissance man that he was, a member of a lineage linked to the most vivid arts, bequeathed us very varied works in various disciplines, the vast majority highly recommended. That line of artists is still alive and producing, with the example of the recommendable film about the house she lived in – along with the brilliant Emma Cohen -, directed by her granddaughter in 2021, ‘Journey to Somewhere’.
It seems like we’re just scratching the surface of what new artificial intelligences will be capable of. We will surely witness an avalanche of similar applications that will put endless questions on the table. For the moment, we are left with memes.