Replicating the sound of human voices with any sort of control goes back to Vox Humana, one of the oldest organ stops, dating back at least as far as the late 1500's. Then there's a dip into the uncanny valley with Joseph Faber's Euphonia, before we got to Perfect Paul and beyond, to building custom voices. BBC's Radio 4 had a half-hour special on this topic, titled Klatt's Last Tapes - History of Speech Synthesis, and you can read more, plus a transcript, here. [more inside]
The Great 202 Jailbreak. 1979: Bell Labs bought a typesetting machine that could do some pretty fancy stuff. There was only one problem: you could only do the fancy stuff that the manufacturer, Mergenthaler, decided you were allowed to do. In one of the first cases of what today would be known as jailbreaking a device, researchers Joe Condon, Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson reverse-engineered the machine and wrote up their efforts and results in a technical memo [pdf] which was quickly suppressed due to legal concerns. [more inside]
The Vocoder was invented at Bell Labs in 1939 to transmit voice data, rather than to make rock musicians sound like robots. It could also do much more interesting things to your voice.
The Vocoder, a short New Yorker video (11:30) about the military origins of the vocoder. The vocoder—the musical instrument that gave Kraftwerk its robotic sound—began as an early telecommunications device and a top-secret military encoding machine.
The legendary Bell Labs Complex in Holmdel, New Jersey was designed by Eero Saarinen and is a gargantuan example of modernist architecture. Though it was shuttered in 2007, there are plans to revitalize it into a mixed use commercial area. However those plans eventually play out, it's fun to have a look at the place both then and now. As a bonus, feast your eyes on a pair of back-to-back videos that first show the construction and opening of the facility in 1962 and then (starting at the 2:35 mark in the second video link) a commemoration of the facility's 20th anniversary in 1982 (Part one, Part two, Part three).
John E. Karlin, Bell Labs' first behavioral psychologist and the father of human factors engineering, has died at the age of 94. [more inside]
Dr. Frank C. Baxter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He played Dr. Research in the Bell Labs Science Series, beginning in 1956 with Our Mr. Sun. [more inside]
The very knowledge that it was possible to record a conversation would "greatly restrict the use of the telephone," with catastrophic consequences for its business.
"In the United States, the higher consumer prices resulting from monopoly amounted, in effect, to a tax on Americans used to fund basic research." But no 'Disruptive Technology', please. A look at the 'dark side' of Bell Labs and why magnetic recording was NOT developed there in the 1930s (thanks to one of the worst tech predictions ever). [more inside]
The entire run of the Bell System Technical Journal, from 1922-1983, is available online for your reading pleasure. Bell Labs on the blue previously
Beware the Electronic Automatic Sound-Spectrograph Computing Digit Translator Playback Recognizer Machine
Telephoneme: Even if your Alphabet Conspiracy succeeds and you destroy the books, machines have no minds of their own. They are easily confused by different voices and different accents. It is the brain of man that tells them what to do. [more inside]
The question facing Chapanis and lab assistant Mary C. Lutz was deceptively simple: What should a push-button telephone look like? [more inside]
The rise and fall of a physics fraudster. In the spring of 2002, the world’s most productive young scientist was a 31-year-old physicist at Bell Labs in New Jersey in the US. With eight papers published in Nature and Science in 2001 alone, Jan Hendrik Schön was emerging with breathtaking speed as a star researcher in physics, materials science and nanotechnology...But in September 2002, managers at Bell Labs released a report [pdf] that...made clear that much of Schön’s data were fake. His discoveries were lies. Many of his devices had probably never existed...On the day of the report’s release, Schön was fired and fled the US to an unknown location. In all, 21 of Schon's papers were withdrawn from Nature, Science and Physical Review Journals.
You and Your Research was a talk given by Richard Hamming in 1986. Read it if you have an interest in doing first-class work.
Silly pencil pushers! You can't KILL Physics! What's that? Oh, physics *research*. You've won this round!
RIP Bell Labs "After six Nobel Prizes, the invention of the transistor, laser and countless contributions to computer science and technology, it is the end of the road for Bell Labs' fundamental physics research lab."
Listening Post: Giving Voice to Online Communication One of the most realized multimedia installations ever presented, the work of Mark Hansen from Bell Labs and Ben Rubin from earstudio. Essential.
Dennis Ritchie's Home Page (If you have to ask who he is...)