Fred, a trans man, clicked his mouse, and his tenorful tones suddenly sank deeper. He’d switched on voice-changing algorithms that provided what sounded like an instant vocal cord transplant. “This one is ‘Seth,’” he said, of a persona he was testing on a Zoom call with a reporter. Then, he switched to speak as “Joe,” whose voice was more nasal and upbeat.
Fred’s friend Jane, a trans woman also testing the prototype software, chuckled and showcased some artificial voices she liked for their feminine sound. “This one is ‘Courtney’”—bright and upbeat. “Here’s ‘Maya’”—higher pitched, sometimes by too much. “This is ‘Alicia,’ the one I find has the most vocal variance,” she concluded more mellowly. The glitches were slight enough to prompt the fleeting thought that the pair may not have joined the call with their “real” voices to begin with.