Startup culture in the Bay Area often boils down to a single phrase:
Move fast and break things.
Much like the business that coined the phrase, this also often leads to unintended consequences.
Now, a new startup is hoping to revolutionize an industry that definitely needs change.
But perhaps… not in the way they’re hoping for.
Startup claims to “translate” accents
According to SF Gate, Sanas is a Palo Alto based firm hoping to solve a problem no one asked to be solved.
They’ve created artificial technology that can transform a person’s voice as they’re speaking.
Specifically, it will “translate” the speaker’s accent into one that sounds more “pleasant” to the listener.
NBC Bay Area spoke to CEO Marty Massih Sarim, who explains the goal of the company is to help with understanding:
And to get the conversation away from how we speak, to what we say
On paper, this sounds like it could be a pretty neat idea.
We don’t want to say that accents are a problem because you have one… They’re only a problem because they cause bias and they cause misunderstandings.
For example, if you call customer service, and the person on the other line has a foreign sounding accent, Sanas believes you’re less likely to be polite.
Conversely, if they “translate” the customer service representative’s voice to have, say, a slight southern drawl, Sanas says the opposite will happen.
Startup draws criticism for racism
But not everyone is on board.
According to NBC Bay Area, many are calling the software racist for re-affirming existing biases against non-white voices.
NBC quotes Don Heider, Chief Executive with Markkula Ethics Center:
This does not counter-act the bias. It feeds into it. It basically re-affirms that everyone should speak in a certain, particular way, rather than tries help people learn that it doesn’t matter if someone has an accent.
Comparisons to Film
Being totally honest, to this writer, it sounds like a plot point in the film Sorry To Bother You (2018).
Where Cash (Lakeith Stanfield) begins finding success at his telemarketing job after adopting a stereotypically white voice (David Cross).
Let’s just hope there’s no Bay Area startup pulling investor funding for a WorryFree-like company.