Computers Learning To Read Lips
Visual speech recognition - computer assisted lip reading - developed at the University of East Anglia - could help in a variety of areas.
The visual speech recognition technology, created by Helen L. Bear, PhD, and Prof Richard Harvey of UEA’s School of Computing Sciences, can be applied “any place where the audio isn’t good enough to determine what people are saying,” Bear said. Those include criminal investigations, entertainment, and especially where are there are high levels of noise, such as in cars or aircraft cockpits, she said.
Bear said unique problems with determining speech arise when sound isn’t available — such as on video footage — or if the audio is inadequate and there aren’t clues to give the context of a conversation. Or on those ubiquitous annoying videos with music that masks speech. The sounds ‘/p/,’ ‘/b/,’ and ‘/m/’ all look similar on the lips, but now the machine lip-reading classification technology can differentiate between the sounds for a more accurate translation.
“We are still learning the science of visual speech and what it is people need to know to create a fool-proof recognition model for lip-reading, but this classification system improves upon previous lip-reading methods by using a novel training method for the classifiers,” said Bear.
Science fiction fans have seen this future before. In the film 2001:A Space Odyssey, the HAL 9000 computer was able to read lips.
(HAL 9000 [background] eavesdrops on astronauts Poole and Bowman)
In the film, HAL's increasingly erratic behavior becomes a matter of concern for the astronauts. Since HAL can effectively monitor every part of the ship, the astronauts retire to a small pod to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, it turns out that somebody did research on computer lip-reading, and so HAL was on to them, with very unfortunate results for Poole.
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