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First There Was Photoshop, Now Adobe has VoiceShop That Raises Ethical + Security Concerns

First there was Photoshop that allowed images to be easily changed, now Adobe is applying the same capability to voice in a move that has many people concerned.

A new application that promises to be the “Photoshop of speech” has been slammed due to ethical and security concerns.

Called Project Voco the software makes it possible to take an audio recording and rapidly alter it to include words and phrases the original speaker never uttered, in what sounds like their voice.

One expert warned that the tech could further undermine trust in journalism while presenting security Companies with a potential nightmare as more and more voice activated security systems hit the market.

At a live demo in San Diego in the USA last week, Adobe took a digitised recording of a man saying “and I kissed my dogs and my wife” and changed it to say “and I kissed Jordan three times”.

The edit took seconds and simply involved the operator overtyping a transcript of the speech and then pressing a button to create the synthesised voice track.

The operator edited the voice track via a text-based tool.

“We have already revolutionised photo editing. Now it’s time for us to do the audio stuff,” said Adobe’s Zeyu Jin, to the applause of his audience.

He added that to make the process possible, the software needed to be provided with about 20 minutes-worth of a person’s speech.

Dr Eddy Borges Rey – a lecturer in media and technology at the University of Stirling – was horrified by the development.

“It seems that Adobe’s programmers were swept along with the excitement of creating something as innovative as a voice manipulator, and ignored the ethical dilemmas brought up by its potential misuse,” he told the BBC.

“Inadvertently, in its quest to create software to manipulate digital media, Adobe has [already] drastically changed the way we engage with evidential material such as photographs.

“This makes it hard for lawyers, journalists, and other professionals who use digital media as evidence.

“In the same way that Adobe’s Photoshop has faced legal backlash after the continued misuse of the application by advertisers, Voco, if released commercially, will follow its predecessor with similar consequences.”

The risks extend beyond people being fooled into thinking others said something they did not.

Banks and other businesses have started using voiceprint checks to verify customers are who they say they are when they phone in.

One cybersecurity researcher said the companies involved had long anticipated something like Adobe’s invention.

“The technology is new but its underlying principles have been understood for some time,” said Dr Steven Murdoch from University College London.

“Biometric companies say their products would not be tricked by this, because the things they are looking for are not the same things that humans look for when identifying people.

“But the only way to find out is to test them, and it will be some time before we know the answer.”