Patricia Scanlon CEO and Founder of Soapbox Labs – Voicebot Podcast Ep 129
Patricia Scanlon is CEO and founder of Soapbox Labs, the leader in automated speech recognition for kids. The company was founded in 2013 and began by collecting a lot of original speech samples from children because what existed in academic corpora was not particularly useful for general speech recognition. Soapbox has amassed thousands of hours of children’s speech in multiple languages to feed its speech recognition model since that time. In fact, Scanlon says in today’s interview that as much as half of her team’s time in the first several years after founding was devoted to collecting speech samples from children.
Children and Adults Are Different in Speech
You may have observed a child attempting to use an Alexa or Google Assistant device and noticed the success rate of those interactions was noticeably lower than when you use it. A big part of that is due to the fact that the speech recognition models in leading voice assistants are tuned toward adult speech patterns, tone, and enunciation. Scanlon points out that children have shorter and thinner vocal cords and have often not learned how to enunciate properly. That means the speech recognition models tuned for adults are looking for the wrong cues when attempting to discern speech from children and the poor results are predictable.
Scanlon began noticing this problem in 2012-13 in mobile apps and decided to set out and solve the problem. That has led Soapbox into both the Education Tech and Toys and Games markets. Today we discuss the technology and the applications related to speech recognition for children and even how her company is moving toward developing entirely edge-based solutions with large vocabulary voice recognition that never needs to send data to the cloud. We go deep and wide on this topic that gets too little attention but is likely to shape the experiences of the generation of children born from this point forward.
Scanlon earned her PhD in speech recognition with a focus in signal processing and machine learning at the University College Dublin. She also has an undergraduate degree in electrical and electronics engineering. Before founding Soapbox, Scanlon worked for seven years as a researcher at Bell Labs of Alcatel Lucent.
Show Notes – Patricia Scanlon Interview
- Follow SoapBox Labs on Twitter and the Web: @SoapBoxLabs SoapBoxLabs
- Read about SoapBox Labs recent grant funding: SoapBox Labs Receives €6 Million Grant to Build a Privacy-by-Design Children’s Speech Recognition for Toys and Games
- Listen to SoapBox Lab’s Niamh Bushnell Discuss voice innovation and the Dublin tech scene: The ConverCon Interviews
- Read about SoapBox Labs’ early education initiative with Florida State University: Irish Startup Teams with American Universities to Improve Child Literacy
You can listen to the podcast interview above, on Google or Apple Podcasts or most of the leading podcast players.