It’s the birthday of Roger Ebert, a great film critic, TV host and author, and a pioneer in developing realistic-sounding electronic voices. Today we have the story of how he worked to create a voice called “Roger Jr.” Plus: how about teaching the electronic voices to read some of Ebert’s hilariously devastating negative movie reviews?

Remaking my voice (TED Talks)

Roger Ebert’s New Voice (CBS Sunday Morning)

Ebert’s Most Hated (RogerEbert.com)

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Finally, here’s an episode of the show that we can give two thumbs up!

It’s the birthday of film critic Roger Ebert, who I watched a lot of alongside Gene Siskel on their TV shows while I was growing up.

Ebert was a great film critic, but he wasn’t just that.

He wrote a newspaper review of a young folksinger in Chicago that helped launch that career of that singer, whose name was John Prine.

He was a champion of Black filmmakers, like Spike Lee, and once he wrote a book of rice cooker recipes!

And late in life, when his speaking voice was taken from him by complications from cancer, he did another remarkable thing: he found a way to bring it back through technology.

On his blog and social media he wrote about his life, his interests, the movies he’d seen, answering questions from fans and friends.

But Ebert also tried a number of electronic voices, and he teamed up with a tech company in Scotland to make a personalized electronic voice, using as source material numerous DVD commentaries he’d made.

They tried using his 30 years of appearances on TV and radio as source material too, but there was too much arguing with Gene Siskel to be usable, apparently.

The voice, nicknamed Roger Jr., was an early draft, but hearing Ebert’s voice again was still stunning.

He joked that quote “In first grade, they said I talked too much, and now I still can.”

And, in his TED Talk about the experience, he proposed an “Ebert Test” for electronic voices.

He said they would only truly sound like human voices if they could tell a joke with the right timing and inflection as a great comedian.

I propose that they be able to read some of Ebert’s hilariously devastating negative reviews, which he once compiled into book form.

One movie he said was “a waste of good electricity. I’m not talking about the electricity between the actors. I’m talking about the current to the projector.”