AI Singapore (AISG)'s new AI Speech Lab is working to develop a speech recognition system that could interpret and process the unique vocabulary used by Singaporeans – including Singlish and dialects – in daily conversations.
This automatic speech transcribing system could then assist frontline officers to acquire and process actionable information faster and more effectively during emergency calls.
Established as part of the 100 Experiments (100E) Programme, this new speech lab is AISG’s first major collaboration with multiple government agencies. The aim is to design an AI system that could be deployed government-wide – and in future, nation-wide.
Located at the innovation 4.0 building within the National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge campus, the lab is operational from 1 July 2018.
“The AI Speech Lab came about as we had, over the last few months, received multiple 100E requests from agencies and companies for a colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) speech-to-text engine,” said Professor Ho Teck Hua, Executive Chairman of AI Singapore. "This is a challenge that is unique to Singapore and the region which is currently not addressed by existing speech engines offered commercially or by major cloud-based AI providers."
Mr Tan Kok Yam, Deputy Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government), said, “The Government is keen to harness artificial intelligence to serve our citizens better. GovTech is collaborating with AI Singapore to develop solutions that can improve planning and service delivery. We are working with the AI Speech Lab on a speech-to-text engine for multi-language speech, for example, to transcribe 995 calls on-the-fly for faster response."
“An automatic speech recognition system that is able to recognise a mix of languages in one conversation is currently not commercially available. This is because training a computer system to recognise different languages is a very complex and challenging task.," said Professor Li Haizhou, a world-renowned expert in Speech, Text and Natural Language Processing from the National University of Singapore. He will be leading the new research lab together with Associate Professor Chng Eng Siong from the Nanyang Technological University.
"Our recent technological breakthrough is the outcome of several years of research efforts in Singapore. This technology performs better than commercial engines as it can accurately recognize conversations comprising words from different languages and solves a unique Singapore problem,” Prof Li explained.
The two professors had recently developed the world’s first code-switch (mixed-lingual) speech recognition engine, which the AI Speech Lab will be utilising.
The novel code-switch speech recognition engine can recognise speech that comprises a mix of English and Chinese words in the same sentence, as if they belong to the same language. Moreover, to adapt to the local context, words in dialects such as ‘jiak ba bueh’ or ‘hoh boh’ (have you eaten or how are you in Hokkien) are also included into the engine lexicon.
Maiden collaboration with SCDF to manage emergency calls
The AI Speech Lab's first collaborator is the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
“The Singapore Civil Defence Force’s 995 Operations Centre receives close to 200,000 calls for assistance every year. When a call is received, our dispatchers need to ask some questions to determine the nature and severity of the case, to facilitate the deployment of appropriate emergency medical resources,” remarked Assistant Commissioner Daniel Seet, SCDF Director of Operations.
"In an emergency, every minute counts. The new speech recognition system, if successful, will help reduce the time needed to log in the information. This will improve how SCDF’s emergency medical resources are dispatched and enhance the overall health outcomes of those in need," he added.