This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Paul Madden

British Ambassador to Japan

Part of UK in Tokyo

18th June 2018 Tokyo, Japan

AI, synthesised speech and elderflower lemon cake at the QBP in Tokyo

Your speech at the Queen’s Birthday Party is one of the big events of the year for most Ambassadors, in front of hundreds of VIPs and important embassy contacts. So, I suppose it was a bit brave to give up part of mine to a synthesised version of my voice, speaking random sentences written by party guests. All in the interests of promoting our Innovation is GREAT AI campaign.

The technology, developed jointly by Japanese tech firm Toshiba and Cambridge University, is pretty impressive. I had to record 100 sentences in Japanese, from which the programme could then synthesise a very realistic version of my voice, saying any Japanese text typed into it. Bizarrely, if you typed in English text, it made me speak English in my natural voice, but with a heavy Japanese accent. It’s a fascinating insight into how foreign speakers’ pronunciation of a language is influenced by the stresses and cadences of their own language. You could even adjust the emotional tone to warm, angry or sad. Naturally I went for warm.

Fortunately, the party guests were kind and the sentences spoken by my voice were fully appropriate – apart from a rogue one by my team promising all embassy staff a 100% pay rise. Nice try. Our Guest of Honour, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, Japan’s most senior female minister, was most impressed.

Guests also enjoyed playing with the winsome robot dog MIRO, which its designer Sebastian Conran had told me about when he visited last year. Although, like robot pets, it responds to petting by nuzzling up to you and making cute sounds, it is in fact a research platform, used for investigating things like in-home support for the elderly.

50% of Europe’s AI companies are British. Although there are some strong collaborations in AI between Japanese and UK companies and academic researchers, there is less public awareness here of the UK’s strengths in this sector, which is already beginning to transform so many spheres of our lives. That’s why we are running the campaign.

Of course, aside from the robots, the party featured some of the more traditional elements of a QBP, with bandsmen from the Royal Scottish Regiment, and a jazz band from the British School of Tokyo. There was sushi, and British staples like fish and chips and chicken tikka masala. And guests were particularly delighted to sample a lemon and elderflower cake, based on the one served at the recent Royal Wedding. Such was the fascination of the Japanese public with the wedding, that Sarah and I had appeared on an hour-long NHK TV programme, together with a former Buckingham Palace chef, to discuss wedding cakes and British desserts.

I’m looking forward to a future where I won’t have to do those late-night teleconferences with the FCO in London, but can just get someone to type in my synthesised voice, while I’m off having sushi.

About Paul Madden

Paul Madden has been the British Ambassador to Japan from January 2017. He was Additional Director for Asia Pacific at the FCO in 2015.He was British High Commissioner to Australia…

Paul Madden has been the British Ambassador to Japan from January 2017.

He was Additional Director for Asia Pacific at the FCO in 2015.He was British High Commissioner to Australia until February 2015. Prior to this he was British High Commissioner in Singapore from 2007-2011.

A career diplomat, he was previously Managing Director at UK Trade and Investment (2004-2006), responsible for co-ordinating and
implementing international trade development strategies to support
companies across a wide range of business sectors.

As Assistant Director of Information at the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office (2003-2004) he was responsible for public diplomacy policy,
including managing the FCO funding of the BBC World Service, the British
Council and the Chevening Scholarships programme. He led the team
responsible for the award-winning UK pavilion at the Aichi Expo in Japan

He was Deputy High Commissioner in Singapore from 2000-2003 and has
also served in Washington (1996-2000) and Tokyo (1988-92). Between
1992-96 he worked on EU enlargement and Environmental issues at the FCO
in London.

Before joining FCO he worked at the Department of Trade and Industry
(1980-87) on a range of industrial sectors and trade policy, including
two years as a minister’s Private Secretary.

He has an MA in Economic Geography from Cambridge University, an MBA
from Durham University, studied Japanese at London University’s School
of Oriental and African Studies, and is a Fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society. His first book, Raffles: Lessons in Business
Leadership, was published in 2003.

Married to Sarah, with three children, he was born in 1959, in Devon.