Archive for Speech technology

Swype and Voice Recognition for mobile device inputting

In late 2012, while visiting my son Tom in Dallas, I noticed that he was doing something very odd with his cell phone.  Most people enter text into their cell phone by pressing their thumbs (or their fingertip) on the letters of a small keyboard, whether virtual or actual.  But Tom was doing something altogether different:  he was sliding his finger over the glass surface of his phone and somehow, by so doing, he was able to enter text.  I was dumbfounded!  What amazed me most of all was how casual he was about it.  He'd be talking to me about something, then glance down at his cell phone, move his fingertip around on the glass, and — presto digito! — he'd have typed a message to someone and sent it off.

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Love <–> hate

Baidu ("the Chinese Google") is a popular search engine in China.  The web services company (registered in the Cayman Islands) and its name are discussed in "Soon to be lost in translation," which I posted a little over a year ago.

Now Baidu has launched a new machine translation service.  A friend of mine in China impishly suggested that I give Baidu Fanyi a whirl by typing in 我恨中国.  Language Log readers are invited to try it themselves and see what they get.

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A synthetic singing president?

A couple of days ago, Gary Marcus told me about the Beatles Complete on Ukulele project, and introduced me to its creator, David Barratt.

Gary got involved because he's working on a book about "learning to become musical at the age of 40", and so he's joining a roster of performers that includes the Fort Greene Childrens Choir (Age 7 and Under Section), Samantha Fox, and many others (82 so far), recording voice-and-ukulele versions of all 185 songs in the Beatles catalog. Gary is of course singing With a Little Help from My Friends (because, he explains, "otherwise I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket"), and his contribution is scheduled to be released on July 19, 2011.

So how does Language Log come into this? Well, David wants to recruit Barack Obama to sing Let it Be, and Gary thought that I could help. In turn, I believe that YOU can help.

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Death or birth?

The most recent IEEE Signal Processing Society Newsletter has an interesting article by David Suendermann, "Speech scientists are dead. Interaction designers are dead. Who is next?".

His argument is that "Commercial spoken dialog systems can process millions of calls per week", and therefore "one can implement a variety of changes at different points in the application and randomly choose one competitor every time the point is hit in the course of a call", using techniques like reinforcement learning to adaptively optimize the design. As a result, "the contender approach can change the life of interaction designers and speech scientists in that best practices and experience-based decisions can be replaced by straight-forward implementation of every alternative one can think of".

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Weird synthesis

I wouldn't have predicted that this would work as well as it does:


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The Growing Role of English in Chinese Education

Under the title "English without Chinese at exams 'traitorious,'" China Daily ("China's Global [English] Newspaper") presents an article by Wu Yiyao describing the uproar over the decision by four Shanghai universities to include an English test as part of their independent admission examinations, but not to include a corresponding examination for Chinese language. The controversy swiftly spilled over into other media reports, with strong opinions on both sides.

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Jingle bells, pedophile

Top story of the morning in the UK for the serious language scientist must surely be the report in The Sun concerning a children's toy mouse that is supposed to sing "Jingle bells, jingle bells" but instead sings "Pedophile, pedophile". Said one appalled mother who squeezed the mouse, "Luckily my children are too young to understand." The distributors, a company called Humatt, of Ferndown in Dorset, claims that the man in China who recorded the voice for the toy "could not pronounce certain sounds." And the singing that he recorded "was then speeded up to make it higher-pitched — distorting the result further." (A good MP3 of the result can be found here.) They have recalled the toy.

Shocked listeners to BBC Radio 4 this morning heard the presenters read this story out while collapsing with laughter. Language Log is not amused. If there was ever a more serious confluence of issues in speech technology, the Chinese language, freedom of speech, taboo language, and the protection of children, I don't know when.

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Damn speech synthesizer

It is truly almost beyond belief that the Investor's Business Daily could say in an editorial (which after much ribald mockery on the blogs they have now altered):

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

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