Adobe's wild 'Photoshop for audio' experiment can change what you said

In the future, everything you see and hear online will be one big forgery.


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Forget about making a shark look like it’s attacking a diver or faking a David Hasselhoff photobomb. In Adobe’s future you’ll be putting words in people’s mouths.

During the Adobe Max conference the company showed off eleven experimental projects, dubbed “Sneaks.” The showcase included a new audio editing feature called Project VoCo, which allows for “Photoshopping voiceovers.”

VoCo allows you to take a piece of audio and manipulate it in a number of ways just by editing text. You can rearrange words to change a sentence, or even insert words that weren’t said in the original recording. 

During the demo at Adobe Max, a company engineer dropped a piece of audio into the VoCo feature using Adobe Audition. VoCo was able to transcribe the short snippet and display the text below the audio waveform. Then the user manipulated the audio by editing the text. In Adobe’s example, a recording of comedian Keegan-Michael Key went from “And uh I kissed my dog and wife” to “And uh I kissed Jordan three times”—Key’s comedy partner Jordan Peele co-hosted the Adobe Max Sneaks session.

The recording alteration wasn’t seamless, but it was pretty good. The word “Jordan” in the playback was obviously inserted, but the phrase “three times” seemed like part of the original. Check out the video above to hear it for yourself.

Adobe says the feature needs about 20 minutes of a person’s recorded voice before it can start inserting new words. It’s also unclear if VoCo just inserted a previous recording of “three times” from another part of the Key recording or was able to create it from scratch.

The story behind the story: Adobe intends VoCo as a tool for quick edits to a podcast, commercial voice over, or audiobook recording. But it could also be used for more nefarious purposes—just imagine what your Facebook feed would be like during this current election cycle if VoCo was currently available. Adobe says it’s aware of this problem and is working on ways to digitally watermark altered recordings. That way even if the human ear can’t detect a forgery, a computer could.

VoCo is only an experimental feature with no guarantee it will ever see the light of day. That said, it’s hard to believe VoCo won’t end up as part of the suite in the future.

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