The Vanishing Human Voice
Live announcers or robots? A train-lover's observation.
If you walk through Penn Station NY today you’ll find yourself at the center of one of the busiest and most chaotic transportation hubs in the world. It serves daily NJ Transit and LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) commuters as well as Amtrak passengers - a daunting group of people to say the least. Adding to the confusing mix is the station's undeniable reputation for being one of the dirtiest, most disorganized spaces, with poor signage, low ceilings and putrid bathrooms - a claustrophobic's worst nightmare.
Fortunately there's some good news on the horizon, as Penn is currently undergoing a major design overhaul, which began last year with Amtrak's Infrastructure Renewal Program. While this plan only includes updating track infrastructure, to be finished sometime next month, the new station (part of a separate project) opens in 2020. On the other side of town, the East Side Access project is underway, with the goal of freeing up congestion at Penn by rerouting LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal. And one replacement has happened already. In fact - it's happening all over transportation.
If you're traveling via Amtrak, you'll notice a series of new schedule boards hovering over the main concourse. They're bright and pretty with the signature blue and white Amtrak colors. But the live announcements and schedule updates from that woman with a clear, calming voice? She's not really there.
The days of nuanced, confident delivery of my train's arrival and departure times from an actual, human being are gone. Forever, it appears. Goodbye, interesting people announcers; hello, one-note bots!
Perhaps this is what commuters need - a detached monotone delivery of simple facts (departure times, track names, schedule updates) with wafer-thin margins of error. The less confused we all are, the better in this fast-paced world, right? With A.I. taking the universe by storm, this should come as no surprise. Technology evolves.
As voice over artists, it's a vital reality we're forced to deal with every day. While I do miss the cadence of that woman's voice at Penn Station, I also understand that change is necessary and certainly has improved my ability to hear the announcements. The same could be said of any industry experiencing major technological advancements.
The questions for my industry remain:
Not WILL our voices be replaced by robots - But WHEN?
How will we prepare for this eventuality, and what will my place in this industry be...?