Voice of reason
World-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking turned 67 just a few weeks back. Denied the use of his vocal chords over the past 23 years by the effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease, he and we have both grown accustomed to the disconcertingly mechanical sound of his first-generation computer voice.
But the word on his Wikipedia page is that he may be on the lookout for a new one. Contemporary technology can give him a synthesized voice that sounds like virtually anyone — so what voice should be the one to present us with a Grand Theory of Everything? We tried these options.
Advantages Beautiful, heroic Shakespearian voice is already associated in our minds with the Larger Universe. A unified field? Make it so.
Disadvantages So familiar declaiming Star Trek dialogue that it might make real astrophysical theory sound like so much sci-fi gibberish.
Advantages Neutral and objective; calm; scientific pedigree in that Stanley Kubrick picked him as the voice of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Disadvantages Hal went crazy and killed people; voice may be better suited to bring news of the Earth’s destruction than a unified field theory.
Advantages Mellifluous, resonant and reassuring voice; all the advantages of James Earl Jones with none of the Darth Vader associations.
Disadvantages Sorry, baby — we’re trying to convince, not seduce.
Advantages A gutsy, gender-bending move; also a tough, authoritative British accent, which may be the best thing to present a theory that supersedes God.
Disadvantages Sadly, there’s a glass ceiling in astrophysics, too.
Advantages Authority without over-familiarity; mid-Atlantic accent; a voice that could make the most dry mathematics still sound beautiful.
Disadvantages None — if you can unify King Lear and Captain Von Trapp, you can reconcile quantum theory and general relativity. The winner.
— Don Irvine