Computers make strides in recognizing speech

For decades, computer scientists have been pursuing artificial intelligence (AI)—but in recent years, rapid progress has been made in machines that can listen, speak, see, reason, and learn, reports the New York Times. The AI technology that has moved furthest into the mainstream is computer understanding of what humans are saying. People increasingly talk to their cell phones to find things, instead of typing. Both Google’s and Microsoft’s search services now respond to voice commands. The number of American doctors using speech software to record and transcribe accounts of patient visits and treatments has more than tripled in the past three years, to 150,000. Meanwhile, translation software being tested by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is fast enough to keep up with some simple conversations. With some troops in Iraq, English is translated to Arabic and Arabic to English. But there is still a long way to go. When a soldier asked a civilian, “What are you transporting in your truck?” the Arabic reply was that the truck was “carrying tomatoes.” But the English translation became “pregnant tomatoes.” The speech software understood “carrying,” but not the context. Yet if far from perfect, speech recognition software is good enough to be useful in more ways all the time. Take call centers: Today, voice software enables many calls to be automated entirely. And more advanced systems can understand even a perplexed, rambling customer well enough to route the caller to someone trained in that product, saving time and frustration for the customer. They can detect anger in a caller’s voice and respond accordingly—usually by routing the call to a manager…

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On web video, captions are coming…slowly

For the deaf and hearing impaired, more captions are coming to the web versions of shows on television, where captions are mandated, reports the New York Times—and yet there is still great disparity among various content. Media companies say they are working hard to make online video more accessible. YouTube, the world’s biggest video web site by far, now supplies mostly accurate captions using voice-recognition software. ESPN is offering captions for its live streams of World Cup matches. And ABC now applies the TV captions for “Dancing With the Stars” to ABC.com. But big gaps remain, much to the dismay of deaf web users. Television episodes on CBS.com, news videos on CNN.com, and entertainment clips on MSN.com all lack captions, to name a few. Other web sites, like NBC.com, are inconsistent about captioning—so “America’s Got Talent” has captions, but “The Marriage Ref” does not. As online video becomes ever more popular, deaf viewers face the prospect of a partly inaccessible internet. The Hearing Loss Association of America says that 36 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Other groups, like English-language learners, also benefit from captions…

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New assistive technology research focuses on iPad, communication skills

 

Most of the projects for 2010 dealt with communication skills.
Most of the grant-winning projects for 2010 deal with improving students' communication skills.

 

In what might result in great new strides for assistive technology, the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) has announced the winners of its “Tech in the Works 2010” competition, which funds innovative projects that pair researchers with industry vendors to improve educational outcomes for all students—and especially those with special needs.…Read More

National Education Technology Plan in line for an update

The Education Department is being urged to revise its draft version of the National Education Technology Plan to include measures on adult education and on accessibility for people with learning disabilities, Federal Computer Week reports. The department published the draft plan in March and welcomes public comments until May 14. After that date, the draft will be updated, according to a statement on the departmental Web site. The draft plan primarily covers kindergarten through high school education and focuses on leveraging technology for learning, teaching, assessment and productivity. Students are urged to use computers and software for personalized learning experiences and teachers are encouraged to connect with networks to ensure their knowledge and methods are up to date.

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Project puts 1 million books online for blind, dyslexic users

Even as audio versions of best-sellers fill store shelves and new technology fuels the popularity of digitized books, the number of titles accessible to people who are blind or dyslexic is minuscule. But a new service by the nonprofit Internet Archive in San Francisco is trying to change that, reports the Associated Press. The group has hired hundreds of people to scan thousands of books into its digital database, more than doubling the titles available to people who aren’t able to read a hard copy. Brewster Kahle, the organization’s founder, says the project initially will make 1 million books available to the visually impaired, using money from foundations, libraries, corporations, and the government. He’s hoping a subsequent book drive will add even more titles to the collection. “We’ll offer current novels, educational books, anything. If somebody then donates a book to the archive, we can digitize it and add it to the collection,” he said…

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Scientists look to help children with autism find a voice

CNN reports that when Ryan Wallace got a diagnosis of autism at age 2, his parents never thought they’d hear him speak. “He used to make noises. When he wanted something he would just point,” says Ryan’s father, Gerald David Wallace. “Or he would scream.” Therapists say that’s not unusual for someone with Ryan’s condition. According to doctors, many children with autism have difficulty understanding information from the outside world.  “The brain’s ability to process information comes in from the eyes, ears and other senses during infancy,” says Dr. Mark Wallace, an expert on sensory processing who directs the Vanderbilt Brain Institute who is not related to Ryan.”If that [ability] is compromised during the early developmental period, you will never be able to really gain full function in these systems.” Because these children lack the ability to understand this auditory information, it can prevent them from developing any form of language and therefore their ability to communicate. Some stages of autism make it hard for children to comprehend sounds, words, expressions and even inflections…

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YouTube turns on captions for millions of videos

YouTube is adding captions to millions of internet videos, reports the Associated Press. The feature unveiled March 4 expands upon speech-recognition technology that YouTube began using to make captions available on a limited number of videos late last year. YouTube’s audience will be able to request captions at the press of a button. Video producers also will be able to download the automated captions and improve upon them. For now, YouTube’s captioning tool will only work on videos with English audio, although there are plans to include more languages. The English audio, however, can be translated into 50 different languages…

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