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Google AI can focus on individual speakers in a crowd

The visual signal not only improves the speech separation quality significantly in cases of mixed speech, but, importantly, it also associates the separated, clean speech tracks

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Google india launches 'Tz' to help people pay their utility bills. Wikimedia Commons
Google AI to identify speakers from crowd. Wikimedia Commons
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Just as most smartphone cameras now allow users to focus on a single object among many, it may soon be possible to pick out individual voices in a crowd by suppressing all other sounds, thanks to a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) system developed by Google researchers.

This is an important development as computers as not as good as humans at focusing their attention on a particular person in a noisy environment. Known as the cocktail party effect, the capability to mentally “mute” all other voices and sounds comes natural to us humans.

Google has collaborated with getty images. Wikimedia Commons
Google AI will identify individual speakers now. Wikimedia Commons

However, automatic speech separation — separating an audio signal into its individual speech sources — remains a significant challenge for computers, Inbar Mosseri and Oran Lang, software engineers at Google Research, wrote in a blog post this week. In a new paper, the researchers presented a deep learning audio-visual model for isolating a single speech signal from a mixture of sounds such as other voices and background noise.

“In this work, we are able to computationally produce videos in which speech of specific people is enhanced while all other sounds are suppressed,” Mosseri and Lang said. The method works on ordinary videos with a single audio track, and all that is required from the user is to select the face of the person in the video they want to hear, or to have such a person be selected algorithmically based on context.

Also Read: Want To Know What Facebook, Google Know About You?

The researchers believe this capability can have a wide range of applications, from speech enhancement and recognition in videos, through video conferencing, to improved hearing aids, especially in situations where there are multiple people speaking. “A unique aspect of our technique is in combining both the auditory and visual signals of an input video to separate the speech,” the researchers said.

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This will also help in speech enhancement . VOA

“Intuitively, movements of a person’s mouth, for example, should correlate with the sounds produced as that person is speaking, which in turn can help identify which parts of the audio correspond to that person,” they explained.

The visual signal not only improves the speech separation quality significantly in cases of mixed speech, but, importantly, it also associates the separated, clean speech tracks with the visible speakers in the video, the researchers said. IANS

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Sexual Misconduct Cases Will Be Handled Better: Google

Google isn't addressing another one of the protesters' grievance because it believes it doesn't have merit.

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Workers protest against Google's handling of sexual misconduct allegations at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. VOA

Google is promising to be more forceful and open about its handling of sexual misconduct cases, a week after high-paid engineers and others walked out in protest over its male-dominated culture.

CEO Sundar Pichai spelled out the concessions in an email sent Thursday to Google employees. The note of contrition came a week after the tech giant’s workers left their cubicles in dozens of offices around the world to protest management’s treatment of top executives and other male workers accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct involving men. The protest’s organizers estimated about 17,000 workers participated in the walkout .

“Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared,” Pichai wrote in his email. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.” Pichai’s email was obtained by The Associated Press.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

Google bowed to one of the protesters’ main demands by dropping mandatory arbitration of all sexual misconduct cases. That will now be optional under the new policies. It mirrors a change made by ride-hailing service Uber after the complaints of its women employees prompted an internal investigation concluding its rank had been poisoned by rampant sexual harassment

Google will also provide more details about sexual misconduct cases in internal reports available to all employees. The breakdowns will include the number of cases that were substantiated within various company departments and list the types of punishment imposed, including firings, pay cuts and mandated counseling.

The company is also stepping up its training aimed at preventing misconduct, requiring all employees to go through the process annually instead of every other year. Those who fall behind in their training, including top executives, will be dinged in their annual performance reviews, leaving a blemish that could lower their pay and make it more difficult to get promoted.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct
Google employees walk off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

The reforms are the latest fallout from a broader societal backlash against men’s exploitation of their women subordinates in business, entertainment and politics — a movement that has spawned the “MeToo” hashtag as a sign of unity and a call for change.

Google got caught in the crosshairs two weeks ago after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.

Like its Silicon Valley peers, Google has already openly acknowledged that its workforce is too heavily concentrated with white and Asian men, especially in the highest paying executive and computer programming jobs. Women account for 31 percent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles.

Google, sexual misconduct
Google employees gather in a courtyard as they take part in a walkout from their jobs at the Google campus in Kirkland, Washington. VOA

Critics believe that gender imbalance as created a “brogammer” culture akin to a college fraternity house that treats women as sex objects. As part of its ongoing efforts, Google will now require at least one woman or a non-Asian ethnic minority to be included on the list of candidates for executive jobs.

Also Read: Silicon Valley, Google Walk Off to Protest Against Mishandling of Sexual Harassment Cases

Google isn’t addressing another one of the protesters’ grievance because it believes it doesn’t have merit. The protesters demanded that women be paid the same as men for doing similar work, something that Google has steadfastly maintained that it has been doing for years. (VOA)