SoapBox Labs Earns First Edtech Certification for Addressing Racial Equity in AI Design From Digital Promise
Children’s speech recognition technology startup SoapBox Labs has become the first edtech company to receive a stamp of approval for its work against racial bias in technology. The U.S. Congress-established non-profit Digital Promise and the Edtech Equity Project presented the Dublin-based SoapBox with the Prioritizing Racial Equity in AI Design certification, a mark that will help the startup as it widens its clientele in the U.S. and beyond.
SoapBox Labs has applied deep learning technology to thousands of hours of children’s speech to develop models capable of understanding what children say far better than the standard models for adults. That means all kinds of accents as well as the individual quirks of children’s speech. Accents, in this case, refer not only to how people in different areas speak but how people near each other can have enormously different speech patterns. To earn certification for addressing racial bias, Digital Promise and the Edtech Equity Project require companies to show their tech can reduce racial bias, lay out the strategy for doing so in their design, and demonstrate plans for continually upgrading its ability to handle future bias issues.
“Drop a pin in New York City, and it’s not just New York accents you’ll hear. We wanted to make sure we address diverse demographics and backgrounds,” SoapBox Labs CEO Martyn Farrows told Voicebot in an interview. “Education sets a very high bar for tech generally, particularly when using AI in products. Formal recognition is important, and nobody had created a framework to assess [racial equity] in this before.”
The certification acts as a shorthand way for SoapBox to prove to potential clients that it has accounted for racial equity in its technology and that it takes the issue seriously. It’s a boost for the company as it rapidly expands its educational organization customer base and partners with other companies in the space looking to incorporate voice technology. SoapBox scored a significant deal to add its tech to literacy education technology developer Imagine Learning’s Fluent Reader+ reading assessment tool in April. That followed the start of a partnership with MetaMetrics to embed SoapBox tech in the Lexile Framework of oral reading tests, the creation of a literacy test for Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research, and contracting with several educational institutions like McGraw Hill and Amplify. Farrows noted the company passed 60 million ‘learning moments,’ meaning server requests from users just last month, but the racial equity certification will likely accelerate the adoption of SoapBox by more educational groups.
“Prioritizing equity is central to what we’re doing and has been from day one,” Farrows said. “We’ve focused on building technology that was designed with kids’ needs in mind, which meant we knew we had to address not just privacy and accuracy but also equity. I’m very excited to be the first to get through this. It’s a real validation of our work. “It’s always an ongoing process, though. We’ll never be finished working on it.”