New technology that allows computers to recognise any language without pre-learning stands to revolutionise automatic speech recognition. If computers are rendered capable of recognising speech it will one day be the norm to give commands by voice rather than via a keyboard. “Speaking” with a mobile phone is already commonplace for many people. The technology can also be used for searching through an audio archive for files or films on the Internet.
The Norwegian researchers have demonstrated that the production of human speech is fundamentally the same across languages. As such, the technology being developed will be applicable to any language without being reliant on speech data for each individual language to train a machine.
The researchers based their approach on phonetics — that is, the study of the sounds of human speech. They have also incorporated additional speech and language knowledge into the system, for example the correspondence between sound frequency and words and how words are put together in forming sentences.
The method developed by Dr Svendsen and colleagues involves training a computer to determine which parts of the speech organs are in activity based on analysis of the pressure of sound waves captured by the microphone.
A by-product is that this type of technology can be useful in contexts where several different languages are being used at once. It takes only in 30 to 60 seconds to identify a given spoken language. This can be helpful in instances where, for example, a person giving a presentation in one language cites a quote in another. It can also be significant in investigative work to determine quickly which language an individual is speaking.”