Saturday, 18 February 2017 18:30

This is Why You'll Soon be Talking to Computers All the Time

laptop on desk

Voice control will soon be everywhere. Research into a low-power special-purpose chip could make speech recognition ubiquitous in electronics. It seemed like science fiction as little as 10 years ago. Now automatic speech recognition is on the verge of becoming the primary way that people will be interacting with computers.

Researchers at MIT Reveal New Speech-Recognition Chip

In anticipation of the age of voice-controlled electronics, MIT researchers have built a low-power chip specialized for automatic speech recognition. A cellphone running speech-recognition software might require about 1 watt of power, the new chip requires between 0.2 and 10 milliwatts, depending on the number of words it has to recognize.

In a real-world application, that probably translates to a power savings of 90 to 99 percent, which could make voice control practical for relatively simple electronic devices. That includes power-constrained devices that have to harvest energy from their environments or go months between battery charges. Such devices form the technological backbone of what’s called the “internet of things,” or IoT, which refers to the idea that vehicles, appliances, civil-engineering structures, manufacturing equipment, and even livestock will soon have sensors that report information directly to networked servers, aiding with maintenance and the coordination of tasks.

"Speech input will become a natural interface for many wearable applications and intelligent devices,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, whose group developed the new chip. “The miniaturization of these devices will require a different interface than touch or keyboard. It will be critical to embed the speech functionality locally to save system energy consumption compared to performing this operation in the cloud."

Today, the best-performing speech recognizers are based on neural networks. These are virtual networks of simple information processors. They are roughly modeled on the human brain. Much of the new chip’s circuitry is concerned with implementing speech-recognition networks as efficiently as possible.

“For the next generation of mobile and wearable devices, it is crucial to enable speech recognition at ultra-low power consumption,” says Marian Verhelst, a professor of microelectronics at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. “This is because there is a clear trend toward smaller-form-factor devices, such as watches, earbuds, or glasses, requiring a user interface which can no longer rely on touch screen. Speech offers a very natural way to interface with such devices.”

Source: This story was provided by the from MIT. The original author is Larry Hardesty. Content may be edited for style and length. To view the original version, visit: