Speech technology for African languages: opportunities, challenges and recent progress


Prof. Dr. Etienne Barnard (North-West University, South Africa) gave an invited talk on Fri 09 May 2014, 14.30-15.30h, Intertain Lab Network Institute (WN-S111).

Etienne Barnard is a partner in a research collaboration between South-Africa and the Network Institute of VU, specifically the W4RA program (Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa, www.w4ra.org). This invited talk is also part of the lecture programme of the ICT4D Master Course given by the VU Computer Science Department, and has been made possible by VU’s International Office.

Talk title
Speech technology for African languages: opportunities, challenges and recent progress

Abstract
Services that use speech technology, such as automated personal assistants and directory-enquiry services, are becoming commonplace in the developed world. In Africa, where literacy and the availability of information sources are significant issues, the potential impact of speech technology seems even greater. I will analyze this potential with reference to a number of usage scenarios, and then discuss the obstacles that have prevented it from being realized to date – obstacles which range from the lack of appropriate physical infrastructure to deficiencies in basic linguistic knowledge. Finally, I will describe recent initiatives that have started to address several of these issues, including international collaborations such as the VOICES and Babel projects.

Bio
Etienne Barnard is a Research Professor at North-West University, South-Africa. He obtained his Ph. D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989, writing his thesis on “Neural Networks for Scene Analysis”. He has since then been active in research and development in pattern recognition and speech processing. He has held a number of academic positions, and has also worked in industry. Barnard has co-authored more than 200 refereed scientific publications, on topics including computer holography, neural networks, language identification, speech recognition and human-computer interaction. He holds a number of international patents in speech processing, and is a past Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. http://www.nwu.ac.za/profile/etienne_barnard

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