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55 years later, ROTHCO brings JFK to life

The Times Uses AI to Unsilence JFK To Make Greatest Speech Never Made

The Times have commissioned creative agency, ROTHCO to celebrate the legacy of JFK in the lead up to the end of the centenary of his birth. Today, they release ‘JFK Unsilenced’, a campaign that uses specialist AI technology, to recreate the spech the 35th US president was meant to make in Dallas, on the day he was assassinated – The Dallas Trade Mart speech.

“The Times believes in bringing new perspectives to the news. Even if that news is a new perspective on something people thought they knew everything there was to know about it,” said Richard Oakley from The Times.

Kennedy was traveling in a motorcade with First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Texas governor John Connally and his wife Nellie when shots rang out in the Dealey Plaza as they made their way towards the Dallas Trade Mart.

The president was due to give a speech at a luncheon but never made it to his destination. He was pronounced dead at the age of 46 on November 22, 1963.

In order to put the President’s voice to the 22-minutes of words he had prepared to deliver, ROTHCO and tech company Cereproc built the monologue entirely out of data, using AI. It is a world first for the speech to be recreated in the President’s voice and was meticulously pieced together by analysing analogue recordings. The audio was then finessed at post production company, Screen Scene.

The intricate process involved:
1. Isolating 41 phonemes for American English (the sounds that can be used to make any word) and stitching the small units of speech back together.
2. Reviewing 831 analogue recordings of JFK speeches and interviews.
3. Analysing speeches for noise, crosstalk and underlying sample rate.
4. Applying audio processing to remove noise.
5. Applying spectrum analysis tools to improve acoustic environment and match them across samples.
6. Sounds are then carefully analysed for pitch, energy, and spectral features.
7. AI techniques such as Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) are applied to learn a model of JFK’s audio, and how he uses intonation in his speech
8. At synthesis time, DNN models and high-dimensional search are used to find the best set of units to create new speech audio.
9. Then the speech is enhanced by months of painstaking sound engineering – allowing us to finally hear the Trade Mart Speech delivered in JFK’s own voice.

“When we delved into the words JFK had written for the Trade Mart speech, we found they were not only poignant for the time but strikingly relevant today. By bringing his voice back to life to deliver this speech, the message is even more powerful: ‘We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense,” said Alan Kelly, Executive Creative Director at ROTHCO.

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