Coincidence or Destiny?

Barnier Geerling
4 min readJan 29, 2021

How often does it happen that the precise moment in which your life gets a certain direction is captured on camera? That something makes such an impression that everything that happens next is subconsciously devoted to that one event? And that someone decides to take a picture of you in that exact moment? How often does something like that happen?

And who does it happen to?

Well, to me.

I was two years old. And my father just got back from an international conference on computer-based education. The year was 1978 and computers were mostly mainframes used by large enterprises to solve math problems. They were hardly used in education, let alone found in the average living room.

From this conference, a report was made which was recorded on an audiocassette that my father took home. Fascinated as I was by my parents’ Kenwood HiFi KX-1030 cassette deck, I would spend afternoons cramming cassette after cassette into the system, destroying most of the cassettes and almost the entire hi-fi system itself.

The audio cassette had a vaguely yellow label that was written on with a pencil. No idea what was on it, because after all, I couldn’t read yet. But what I could hear has had a decisive influence on my life and — moreover- led to our baby speaking full sentences just one month after its birth. What I could hear was nothing short of magic.

And I’m not talking about that French guy on the tape who, in Frenglish, and with a very noticeable French pronunciation of the word development, narrated a — probably very progressive — story for half an hour.

No, I’m talking about the intermezzo part, by which the long and unintelligible presentations by the conference participants were interspersed with short fragments of ‘inspiring innovation’.

I’m talking about a song.

A song called ‘Daisy Bell’ that was written in 1892 (yes, in 1892) by British songwriter Harry Dacre. The first song that was ever sung by a computer.

In 1961, at Bell Labs, an IBM 7094 was programmed by John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum to sing Daisy Bell, one of the very first attempts to give a human voice to a computer using speech synthesis.

Fast forward to 1978. Somewhere in the Netherlands, a toddler (me) is sitting with his headphones on, totally mesmerized by something that sings like a human being but isn’t. And this toddler subconsciously decides that this is so impressive that it will devote its life to voice and technology.

At that moment, his father takes a picture.

It wasn’t just me who was impressed. When in 1962, Arthur C. Clarke visited Bell Labs and was offered a demonstration of the machine’s singing talent, he decided to give Daisy Bell a cameo in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In one of the final scenes of the movie, the artificially intelligent on-board computer HAL 9000 sings the chorus during its dramatic de-activation.

So okay, a toddler with a mission. That’s… a bit farfetched!

I can hear you thinking. But the following 42 years were filled with events that can be causally linked to this special moment.

Among other things I made imaginative attempts to talk to my father’s Apple II (I would have given up all my toys for it, but it wasn’t possible, because I was seven and the Apple II didn’t have a soundcard), I built an 8bit audio sampler for my Amiga 500 so I could record and play my own voice, I devoured books written by futurists and visionaries like Ray Kurzweil and Eric Drexler, I started a career as a voice-over and voice actor and in the past 25 years I’ve had the opportunity to do many voice-overs and roles in well-known cartoon series and cinema films, I decided to share my knowledge of the human voice (with people) and this coincidentally led to the construction of the largest educational institute for novice voice-overs in the Benelux countries.

And to top it all, a few years ago I coincidentally ran into a good childhood friend and former band member, who turned out to be a rather brilliant AI scientist.

Some things are so coincidental that instead of a coincidence they could be called destiny.

And that’s why, a little less than 42 years after that important moment in the picture above I decided, together with my friend, to make my childhood dream come true: to give a credible human voice to computers.

Our baby is called DAISYS (yes, from the song), acronym for Deeplearning Artificial Intelligent Systems.

And our baby speaks. In full sentences and with emotion. How we taught her that? I’ll tell you next time.

Stay tuned!

Barnier Geerling
Voicing the Future Now