Czechs taking lead in voice recognition

A team in Brno is working with defense experts and Facebook

Czech scientists are at the forefront of developing voice recognition and artificial intelligence. A team from Brno is cooperating with the US Defense Department and Facebook.

The US Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is trying to improve the technology used to decipher poor audio recordings, such as intercepted chatter from suspected terrorists. DARPA is getting help from the information technology faculty of the Brno Institute of Technology (VUT-Brno).

"We did a project called RATS which deals with speech recognition, language and keyword detection. It was important for machines to be able to recognize speech from very bad transmission channels such as amateur radio stations where the quality was horrible,” voice analysis team member Jan Černocký told daily Hospodářské noviny (HN). RATS stands for Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech.

“At the beginning there is a common human conversation, and we are trying to extract as much information as possible,” Černocký added.

The work in the science laboratory is intended to have eventual applications in the commercial sphere.

Scientists from Brno, for example, have a project for the general public. SpokenData.com allows people to upload a video or audio file over a web browser and get a text transcription. To improve the program, he is constantly working to cope with the sound from the noisy pub. He said there would always be work in this area. The transcription service is not free, though.

The grant from DARPA went through Raytheon BBN Technologies, which was famous for the 1978 sound analysis of recordings for the House Select Committee on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, among other projects. One of the founders of the company was MIT professor Leo Beranek, who had Czech roots.

His team also began cooperating with Facebook's headquarters. VUT-Brno and the Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT) are among 15 universities that are helping Facebook develop artificial intelligence.

“Facebook is … a world leader in machine learning and artificial intelligence. With their servers, we will increase our computing power, and our research teams will be able to perform faster data-intensive computations, particularly in speech retrieval,” Černocký told HN.

Speech recognition can be used to render speech into text so it can be used in data analysis. The age and gender of the speaker can also be guessed as part of the analysis.

Recognition and analysis can also be used, for example, by call centers so specific details of what customers want can be analyzed, or how call center employees work can be evaluated.

Security experts, though, have raised concerns over too much use of voice recognition software and the loss of privacy. Major international online security firms are also based in Brno and Prague.

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