Friday, January 05, 2007

Now Hear This: Robots Need Ears

Technology Review asked members of their list of young innovators for 2006 to tell what they are hoping for in 2007.

Researcher Paris Smaragdis, a researcher at Mitsubishi's MERL in Cambridge, Massachusetts, spoke up on behalf of machine listening research.

He says that the quest for machines that can mimic people has focused on vision to the detriment of machine listening research.

But hearing is important for a lot of tasks. You can hear your baby cry from upstairs; you can hear the car you didn't see approaching you in the pedestrian crosswalk; and you can hear that not-so-friendly dog growling behind your back. Machines can do their own set of valuable hearing tasks. They can listen for survivors in a collapsed building's rubble; they can help soldiers locate who shot at them; they can listen for breathing problems in patients in intensive care; and they can try to filter out that annoying neighbor who loves to sing really loudly in the shower.
Machine learning, AI, and classical computer-science algorithms are deeply rooted in a visual way of thinking that does not extend naturally to reasoning about sound.

So keep your mind and ears open. You might not see much of hearing machines today, but you'll be hearing about them soon.

Technology Review: Hearing Machines


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