A startup company based out of Silicon Valley called Sanas plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) to modify the voices of workers in call centers to remove their accents.
The company's demo features the voice of a man with an Indian accent, reading through a call center script in a simulated customer interaction. Enabling the slider on screen to use Sanas' technology seamlessly switches from obviously human audio to a processed version that finds itself in the uncanny valley. The voice is still noticeably synthesized, but the Indian accent is gone and replaced with a more Americanized or "white" accent.
Sanas launched in August 2021 and has already received large amounts of funding, with $32 million in funding secured during a Series A funding round in June 2022. The company's founders, three former students of Stanford University, claim the funding is the largest amount ever put towards a speech technology service. The company eventually wants to offer more voices for its accent translation, expand to changing voices during video and audio calls, and potentially even work on films or television shows.
"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," Sanas president Marty Sarim told SFGATE.
Sarim maintains that if workers don't want to use the technology, they can simply turn it off. However, Winifred Poster, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, who has extensively researched call center workers, argues that call center workers would be unlikely to have even that degree of autonomy, as they already read from a strict script and are harshly surveilled.
"There is virtually nothing in the labor process of call centers which involves choice by the workers in terms of technology," said Porter.
"All they have the authority to do is read a script, right? Customers are going to be mad at the company, regardless of who the messenger is," Porter continued.
You can read more from SFGATE's interview with Sarim and Porter here.