Indian American student shares top US science prize

Inspired by the sci-fi movie "I, Robot," two teens have developed a speech recognition technology.

Washington: Inspired by the science fiction movie "I, Robot," two high school students, one of them an Indian American, have developed a speech recognition technology that has won them a $100,000 grand prize.
Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez of Portland, Oregon, who developed a computer algorithm that can detect a speaker`s emotions better than current technology, would share the team prize, the Siemens Competition for America`s top math and science students announced Monday.

Krishnan, 16, and Fernandez, 17, watched "I, Robot," while taking a break from trying to come up with a project idea. The movie featured a robot that could detect when its user was stressed, and they decided to try to improve on the existing technology.

Their algorithm has a 60 percent accuracy rate, compared with about 40 percent for a previous system. They say their work could be used to improve computer automated phone systems, helping, for example, to tell if a caller was becoming irate.

"The duo built a computer algorithm that allows us to listen to an auditory signal from a human, analyse it and assess the emotional state of the speaker," said competition judge Gert Lanckriet from the department of electrical and computer engineering, University of California, San Diego.

"It can help identify if the speaker is angry, sad, bored, anxious or happy. They came up with a strong creative idea and brought it from theory into practice."

"Using an emotional speech database with 18,215 files and five emotions -- anger, positive, neutral, emphatic, rest-the team developed, trained and tested a classification engine to determine emotions from an input signal," he said.

Lanckriet said that their work could even be used to enhance cellphone technology.

"In cell phones, most of the encoding is designed to ensure words are understood, but the emotional background of the conversation may be lost. Krishnan and Matthew`s work could help ensure that the emotion comes through," he said.

Krishnan was not the only one in the competition who has his roots in India. Three other students of Indian origin-Santosh Narayan of Munster, Indiana, Nikhil Mehandru of Roslyn, New York and Sonia Prasad of Roslyn Heights, New York-bagged the fourth position in the team category in the national championship and were awarded a $30,000 scholarship.