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Study of speech synthesis may have broad practical applications

Imagine a security system that analyzes the unique sound waves of your voice to grant access. How about an ECG that uses noise cancelling technology to differentiate between an expectant mother’s pulse and the movements of her unborn child? These are some of the many potential real-world applications of digital speech processing discussed by Dr. Surinder Dhanjal in his November 9 presentation at UFV’s Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, the fourth address in their ongoing South Asian Lecture Series.

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TRU prof talks problems, applications of digitizing Punjabi and English languages

by Nick Ubels (Online Editor)
Email: onlineeditor[at]ufvcascade[dot]ca

Dr. Dhanjal, pictured second from left.

Imagine a security system that analyzes the unique sound waves of your voice to grant access. How about an ECG that uses noise cancelling technology to differentiate between an expectant mother’s pulse and the movements of her unborn child?

These are some of the many potential real-world applications of digital speech processing discussed by Dr. Surinder Dhanjal in his November 9 presentation at UFV’s Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, the fourth address in their ongoing South Asian Lecture Series.

“It is possible, using digital speech processing techniques, to verify that a person is who he or she claims to be,” said Dr. Dhanjal, who works as an assistant professor of Computing Science at Thompson Rivers University

“Suppose a mother is pregnant and [she] falls sick. The pulse of the mother is not her pulse alone, it is being disturbed by the movements of the child… If we examine it carefully from the viewpoint of computing science and electrical engineering, the pure signal of the mother is contaminated by the random movements of the child, like a noisy signal.”

The same electrical noise cancelling technology developed for computerized speech processing can be used to distinguish the baby’s movements from the mother’s pulse.

“When I read about this application for the first time, I was in tears,” said Dhanjal.

While Dr. Dhanjal emphasized the many possible applications of digital speech synthesis and analysis in fields ranging from forensics to encryption and decryption, he acknowledged some of the problems in developing a consistent and accurate model.

“Speech formation is very complicated. Our objective is to come up with models that are linear and time invariant,” explained Dhanjal.

The development of computerized speech synthesis and analysis is a goal shared by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In a September 2009 white paper, the President outlined several “Grand Challenges” of the 21st century in scientific and technological innovation. One of these 8 goals is “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between major languages of the world.” Dr. Dhanjal believes that digital speech processing will help achieve this “Grand Challenge”.

“Almost every country now has a centre for advanced computing,” said Dhanjal, “This is a project with lots of national and international significance.”

According to Dr. Dhanjal, digital voice processing is a highly interdisciplinary field of study, requiring expertise in a wide variety of subjects.

“It involves engineering, it involves computing science, it involves mathematics, it involves statistics, it involves linguistics [and] it involves phonetics… [this] makes it very interesting and challenging.”

In addition to his extensive work in computing science, Dhanjal is an acclaimed poet with four books of Punjabi poetry. He is also a literary critic, an electrical engineer and a journalist.

Dhanjal spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes before turning it over to the audience for a question and answer period that included discussion of written grammar and the preservation of the Punjabi language and culture.

“All you need is one serious person to keep a language alive… if something lives here,” said Dhanjal, pointing to his heart, “it will continue.”

Approximately 20 students, faculty and community members were in attendance for last Tuesday’s lecture.

“I think it was good that we had a bit of a crowd there,” said UFV general studies student Kevin Au, “but it would be nice if we sometimes had more people come out to these types of events. Not just necessarily what’s in their field, but to explore what’s around.”

UFV’s Fall 2010 South Asian Lecture Series will conclude next week with a presentation by local scholar Gilli McLaren about the relationship of Anglican Priest Charles F. Andrews to the Indian independence movement. The lecture is entitled “Ghandi and CF Andrews – A Friend of India” and will take place Wednesday, November 17 at 7 p.m. at the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies: room F125 of UFV’s Abbotsford Campus.

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