Author: Speechmatics

Making speech recognition real-time at NAB 2017

microphone with mix deskThis year’s NAB show coincided with a big step forward for us at Speechmatics in terms of creating a productised real-time speech-to-text system. We had intended to simply attend the show, look for customers and observe at the state of play in the industry as NAB is the biggest broadcast and media conference in the world. However, after glimpsing some snapshots of our real-time capability online, we had received such interest that we decided to do a push for some live integrations at the show.

As such we were able to demonstrate the capabilities of our technology jointly with the likes of Broadcast Bionics, ISID and bitcentral for a variety of use cases.

Broadcast Bionics were already using our cloud-based speech-to-text transcription system to make radio production and audio searchable. While they used the real-time system to demonstrate how to produce immediately viewable output of a live show as you can see in the video below.

Bitcentral had likewise used our technology to demonstrate how to create searchable transcripts for large swathes of video and audio metadata in an interactive interface.

And finally, ISID had set up a connection to our online real-time cloud system and, despite the habitually flaky internet that is the stalwart of big conference, the results were enthralling. Being able to watch yourself talk with subtitles appearing automatically in multiple languages is a surreal, yet exciting experience. Especially considering the difficulty of live capture in such a noisy environment we were delighted with how both the Broadcast Bionics and ISID real-time integrations worked. Below the video shows myself and my colleague Ian using the integration at the show and just how well the demonstration worked.

The other thing that became clear is that speech is a hot topic at the moment and especially real time ASR. On almost every corner we had another conversation about our ASR, another request for when productised real-time would be available. Never before has a conference so closely resonated with the tech we are developing and we are really excited about making an even bigger impact in this space going forward!

Ricardo Herreros-Symons, Speechmatics

Unlocking the power of machine learning

Machine learning is the cornerstone of many technologies we use every day; without it we would be interacting with computers as we did 20 years ago – using them to compute things. With the advent of more powerful processors, we can harness this computing power and enable the machines to start to learn for themselves.

To be clear – they do still need input, they still follow patterns and still need to be programmed – they are not sentient machines. They are machines which can find more information that just 2+2=4. What machine learning is very useful for is extracting meaning from large datasets and spotting patterns. We use it here at Speechmatics to enable us to train our ASR to learn a different language on significantly less data than would have been possible even 15 years ago.

We are now in a world which is starting to find more and more uses for machine learning (eventually the machines will find uses for it themselves, the ‘singularity’, but we aren’t there yet!). Your shopping suggestions, banking security and tagging friends on Facebook are all initial uses for it, but the sky is literally the limit. There is no reason why eventually the Jetson’s flying cars wouldn’t be powered by machine learning algorithms, or why I Robot style cars couldn’t be controlled by a central hub. Machine learning could also be used to help out humans; to assist air traffic controllers by directing planes to a holding pattern, or help teachers to identify struggling pupils based on test results.

Machine learning coupled with neural networks (large networks of processors which begin to simulate a brain) can unlock even more power from machine learning. Whilst at Speechmatics we like to think we are changing the world – the reality is research into deep neural networks and machine learning are starting to unravel the way some of the most vicious illnesses operate. The mechanisms of HIV and Aids, as well as simulating flu transmission can both lead to a better understanding of how they operate.

As The Royal Society stated in a recent article on the possibilities of machine learning, they are calling for more research into machine learning ‘to ensure the UK make the most of opportunities’. The progress we have made so far is astounding and with an exciting prospect ahead, we at Speechmatics are continually innovating and researching artificial intelligence.

What is most exciting is to think how things could end up looking in the future. Today your mobile phone had more computing power than that which NASA used to put man on the moon. The phone which you use to combine candies into rows and crush them, has nearly 1 million times the processing power of the machine which landed on the moon. So just as it was hard for the scientists of the 60s to consider what we could do with more computing power (Angry Birds probably wasn’t in their thoughts), it is just as impossible for us to determine what we can do with machine learning backed up by current computing power.

So, welcome to the future. A future where computers no longer just compute. A future where processors think.

Luke Berry, Speechmatics

Keeping it real-time at SXSW

 

We have attended our fair range of conferences across the world and in numerous different markets. However, it is safe to say, that South by South West, SXSW or simply South By, was one of the most eclectic and most enjoyable. Upon arriving we were informed that the mantra for the city is ‘keeping Austin weird’ and that sentiment is embodied in the event.

The city is transformed for this highly interactive conference, houses are converted into tech expo events and open houses, cinemas pop up out of nowhere and live music can be heard around every corner.

The conference is split and partially staggered between music, film and technology with our focus being the latter.

In 2016 we won a final place out of 50 from a field of 500 companies to pitch at SXSW. We were competing with four other finalists in the enterprise and data category. The pitch itself was no longer than 2 minutes followed by a 7 minutes Q&A with the judges.

Our pitch went well, we were happy with how the technology was received and the crowd of interested attendees surrounding us at the end of the pitch to find out more.

We focussed the pitch on our new real-time capabilities, our continuous development and language creation tools. We even transcribed our pitch live using our offline, real-time capability, on a phone. It was a dangerous environment to demo in due to the acoustic levels – but one that certainly resonated with the judges.

Unfortunately, we didn’t win the overall competition, losing out to Deep 6 AI who did clinical trials for cancer patients using AI technology – a worthy winner with great technology and a compelling pitch.

Nonetheless, we still thoroughly enjoyed taking part and you can watch our pitch below.

Along with the pitch competition SXSW also organised a demo day for all the competing finalists. This is something that we are accustomed to: standing in a busy room, armed with a laptop, a video and demo and telling people about our technology.

For us this was the highlight of the event. Over the 3-hour session there was not a moment when we didn’t have a queue of people wanting to find out more or try out the real-time offline system on our phones. The Japanese, English and Spanish tester demos proved to be especially popular! Traditionally footfall and exposure is always difficult at these kind of events, but SXSW did a fantastic job of ensuring there was a constant stream of relevant people visiting the exhibits.

The combination of the three conferences meant that there was always something to do at SXSW with a range of exciting attendees and an electric atmosphere. From the likes of tech influencer Robert Scoble to Joe Biden, from Mick Fleetwood to Buzz Aldrin. SXSW gave us the opportunity to meet, watch and engage with a vast range of industry leaders, experts, celebrities and ultimately, potential customers.

Ricardo Herreros-Symons, Speechmatics

What does it take to be a non-techie in a deep technology company?

It all began at the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) awards ceremony 3 years ago, where I won an award on the night with £1,000 prize money. And today I’m sitting in our new offices, surrounded by 32 full-time employees watching as our company continues to scale rapidly in 2017.

So how did it happen?

I first met Tony at a CUE networking event, my initial reaction was “100% no-way that I will get involved in a software company”. A few weeks later Tony posted into the CUE Facebook group and we got talking again. I was already involved in several other start-ups but after some consideration, I thought it might be worth a shot. Tony had developed the technology and frameworks but needed someone to commercialise the company.

I started working with Tony when there were only 5 employees at the company. Myself and my colleague spent our days cold-calling everyone and anyone we could to try and get a sale. It was a numbers game. Eventually someone was going to need and want us. And they did. By the end of 2014 we had doubled in size to 10 people – still working out of a shed.

We focused our efforts on our cloud-based system which we needed to ensure was commercially appealing. When Google made their Speech API available, we knew we had to beat them. So, we ran tests and found that we were 30-50% more accurate than Google.

So where are we now?

We have been generating strong revenues since we commercialised in 2014 and we just closed an investment round at the end of 2016. We have expanded our capabilities to provide our customers with technology that can be deployed on-premises and we recently launched our new real-time technology. The real-time technology can be used offline, on a device. We also developed an automated framework that gives us the ability to develop any language in the world in a matter of weeks. Overcoming the three fundamental challenges with current products on the market today.

Some advice?

  • Pick up the phone and speak to anyone
  • Be tentacular, speak to everyone you can in an organisation
  • Don’t be too smart, there is always someone smarter
  • Always manage expectations
  • Find your focus as a company
  • Challenge people

The CUE event gave me the platform I needed to meet the right contacts at the right time. Jules Robertson, CUE speakers representative says “we encourage entrepreneurs to develop their ideas and skills as future company leaders. With the multiple rounds of competitions, we reward £100, £1000 and £5000 to individuals or teams to help elevate them to produce a successful company. We hold the awards and networking events to help introduce our entrepreneurs to contacts and hear from industry experts”.

Who says you can’t lead a deep technology company as a non-techie?

Benedikt von Thuengen, Speechmatics

The language of Romance

Ceramic Bench Park Guell - Barcelona SpainWhen we hear Catalan nowadays we think of Barcelona, of Gaudí, of Miró and the strange sounding language with hints of Spanish that so many Barcelona dwellers speak – and this makes us question why we bothered learning Spanish at school.
However, the breadth and depth of Catalan stretches much further than that. It is spoken across Catalonia and in various variants in Valencia, the Balearics, parts of France, Sardinia and even appearing as the official language of Andorra.
It is a language that has had a potted history, declared socially unacceptable or illegal on numerous occasions throughout Spain’s past, yet it has continually rebounded even having its own Reneixença (renaissance) in the 19th century. Today, there are between 10 and 15 million speakers worldwide. And while it shares similarities to its cousins of the Romance languages evolved from Latin (predominantly Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian) – Catalan is very much its own language with a rich history of poetry, culture, art and important agency across industry, politics and commerce.
This became particularly notable last year when we released our Spanish automatic speech recognition system which generated significant interest across Spain, South America and beyond. However, we also quickly realised that, whether for call centres or media monitoring, education or subtitling – potential customers had a need for Catalan as well. Spanish was a good start but for true coverage across Spanish-speaking countries we simply had to have Catalan.
The Speechmatics languages team took it on as part of our traditional Christmas hackathon, and within 2 weeks we had a fully operating system that is available on our website and has already attracted significant interest with users across both our public cloud-based platform and private on-premises implementation.
Carme Calduch, a Catalan Lecteur of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London tested our cloud-based Catalan transcription service. “Speechmatics has developed a fantastic tool, doing a manual transcription is a laborious task and using this service I was able to obtain a transcript in less than 3 minutes. It is completely automatic, and the result was impressive, because the quality of the transcription is very good. Without a doubt, I’d recommend using this service – it will be really useful to professionals across multiple industries.”
With the list of languages available rapidly growing on the Speechmatics speech recognition system – we welcome everyone to sign-up for a free trial of our public speech transcription service at www.speechmatics.com.

Ricardo Herreros-Symons, Speechmatics

Detecting the pattern of speech

By now it is pretty obvious that speech recognition is taking over the world, and so long as it doesn’t go all Hal 9000 on us, then the future looks very interactive. The promise of a world where light, TVs and coffee machines can be activated without touch has already been realised. But this is a (relatively) simple process of crosschecking what the device thinks it has heard and comparing it to a known list of commands (I have completely oversimplified this – the time taken to reach this technical epoch of voice control is some indication as to the complexity of the process).

We are now seeing more companies working on tech which can delve into the complexities of our voice. Banks are now using your voice as your password, emotion engines can detect your emotion when calling a call centre to give the operative a heads-up if things are about to go south and suggest actions they can take to resolve the issue.

The latest breakthrough comes from Canary Speech – a US start-up – which has developed a way of analysing phone conversations for several neurological diseases, ranging from Parkinsons to Dementia.

A pinch of reality may be required though. This is early stages for the start up. Don’t expect GPs to be replaced anytime soon by a microphone but there is no reason not to think that between machine learning and voice recognition we couldn’t start to see chatbots being used for front line GP care – culminating in the inevitable prescription of Ibuprofen, a staple of the British doctor. The tech that Canary are investigating is not yet fully mature, they will need to rely heavily on using large data sets over a sensible period of time to teach their machine how to effectively identify a problem.

How this technology will be rolled out is a big issue to consider. At the moment, most calls to call centres are recorded for monitoring and quality purposes – that’s monitoring of the call centre operatives, not the caller.  I’m not sure there are many people who would appreciate being told by Vodafone that they have identified them to have signs of dementia. That’s all yet to be ironed out as we get to grips with more of our data being analysed.

From Speechmatics’ point of view the more research that goes into using neural networks and machine learning the better. In-house we are getting better and better at finding more efficient ways of changing speech to text. We are able to do now on a phone – what five years ago – required banks of graphics processors. This has come about because the collective knowledge that computer science has developed in the last 5 years has advanced so much. Research breeds research. The more uses for speech recognition the more ways it can be streamlined.

Luke Berry, Speechmatics

Speechmatics closes growth funding round from leading tech investors.

Speechmatics (http://www.speechmatics.com), the Cambridge-based speech technology company, has received investment from multiple leading investors to accelerate the commercial roll-out of its products. Founded by Chief Technology Officer Dr Tony Robinson, who pioneered PhD research into Recurrent Neural Networks in the 1980s, Speechmatics has developed a unique machine learning technology to harness the full potential of speech technology.

“This is an exciting time to be in speech recognition”, comments Robinson. “We are at the forefront of how deep neural networks are changing speech recognition. With our ever expanding and highly experienced R&D team, we continue to push the boundaries in speech technology, especially around languages, accuracy and deployment.”

The firm received investment from several sources, including technology venture capitalist IQ Capital, AI/machine learning specialist and technology investors Amadeus Capital Partners and a number of leading technology investors including Laurence Garrett (Highland Capital Europe), Cambridge Professor Ted Briscoe, a world expert in Natural Language Processing, as well as co-founders of CSR, and Richard Gibson (previously Exec Chairman at SwiftKey).

Benedikt von Thüngen, CEO of Speechmatics, said: “Over the past two years Speechmatics has seen substantial growth, entirely through cash-flow. The addition of these highly-experienced investors as advisors to the business will help accelerate the on-going commercialisation of our technology and place speech recognition technology at the heart of all communications.”

Ed Stacey, Partner at IQ Capital Partners, added: “Speechmatics’ disruptive technology has significantly greater accuracy than competitors such as Google, IBM or Microsoft, which opens up many new commercial opportunities for speech recognition – from call compliance driven by legislation such as MiFID II and PCI DSS, to content discovery and speech analytics in order to spot trends and understand the voice of the customer.”

With a simple set-up and a combination of cloud and on-premise based solutions, Speechmatics technology enables businesses to generate data about customers and employees which is harnessed to improve process, efficiency, and benefit the bottom line. Speechmatics is now even more equipped to help clients navigate the complex changes in technology, to generate business insights, and to facilitate more powerful communications in the digital age.

In 2016, Speechmatics launched its new AI framework, Auto-Auto, which enables the company to add almost any language automatically. Since building the framework, Speechmatics has released a new language every two weeks, including most European languages, and Greek, Russian and Arabic.

Speechmatics has a successful track record of delivering exceptional results across a wide range of applications and industries: for example, language assessment with Cambridge English or content discovery with Udemy. Other applications include call centre analytics, call compliance, sub-titling, interview & lecture transcription and media monitoring. Speechmatics has developed highly accurate universal models that work across use cases and industries and do not need to be individually trained.

Tony Robinson’s world-class research team utilises the latest ML and AI technology to offer continual improvements in accuracy, an ever-increasing range of languages and new business applications. This technology is also designed to integrate with other applications in the workplace to generate value and insight.
Richard Gibson, recently appointed Chairman, said: “I am excited to be working with another successful game-changing deep technology company out of Cambridge. With this funding, Speechmatics will be able to harness the true potential of its technology and accelerate its commercial roll-out.”

-Ends-

For press enquiries:
Charles King, PR advisor to Speechmatics
Email – Charles.king@weareoctopusgroup.net
Telephone –  020 3837 3769