To finish its one-hour diary between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., Radio 4, one of the BBC channels, chose Thursday January 19 to return to the reconstitution of General de Gaulle’s June 18 appeal by The world. “In this program, we really like to be interested in everything that comes from artificial intelligence”, explains the presenter, Evan Davis. To interest his listeners, he offers them two excerpts: one from a real recording of General de Gaulle, the other being the work done by The world. “I’m not telling you which one is the real one, I’ll let you listen”, explains Mr. Davis.
This reconstruction, published by “Le Monde” on Wednesday January 18, is the culmination of an investigation by journalists Charles-Henry Groult and Benoît Hopquin. Knowing that there is no recording of the famous call, they wondered if it was possible to reproduce it, using artificial intelligence, which today makes it possible to “clone” a voice. For this, they asked for help from the Institute for Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination (Ircam), which masters this technology.
But to achieve this, three things were needed. First, at least 30 minutes of recording of General de Gaulle, which posed no problem, the BBC having kept many other speeches that he made during the Second World War. Then the exact text was needed. But the latter has disappeared, and the recording of a call read on June 22, often repeated, is not exactly the same. Finally, thanks to the research of an amateur historian, an archive of the Swiss secret services containing the exact text, but in German, was unearthed.
The French translation has been proofread by historians to stick as closely as possible to reality. Finally, an actor had to read the text, to give it the right intonations. Actor François Morel agreed to take part in this game. Then the computers did their job and produced a posthumous “recording” of the June 18 call of just under four minutes.
The presenter deceived himself
To talk about it, the BBC has therefore chosen to broadcast two extracts from speeches. The first, strangely, dated from June 1960, and was devoted to the Algerian war. The second takes up some of the best-known lines from the June 18 appeal: “Certainly we have been, we are, overwhelmed by the mechanical, land and air force of the enemy…” For a French speaker, it was obvious that the second excerpt was the re-enactment. But the presenter Evan Davis, when concluding, got himself wrong, first indicating that the second was a real recording, before finally correcting himself. “This is an example of how well artificial intelligence works. »
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