We all know about the legendary scientist Stephen Hawking and his struggle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Motor Neuron Disease (MND), that rendered him voiceless. Now, patients suffering from this disease can look forward to a better future thanks to new AI tech called the Rolls Royce Quips.
What Is ALS?
ALS is a disease that affects the nerves of the brain and spinal cord of a person. This in turn affects his/her muscles leading to loss of various faculties like speech, movement and even breathing.
Thus, communication becomes one of the biggest hurdles for ALS patients. Existing technology lets users type or use eye movement to register what they want to say, and a computerized voice reads that information out.
The Rolls Royce Quips
Rolls Royce, with support from the Motor Neuron Disease Association and companies like Intel, Accenture, and Microsoft, developed a new tool called Quips. This tech uses artificial intelligence, coupled with a technique called voice banking.
Voice banking allows the tech to learn the unique way in which a user speaks, before they completely lose their ability to talk. All one needs to do is record clippings of them speaking, which doctors would then use to create the synthetic voice which will in turn be used by the tool.
How Is It different?
Even though existing technology lets ALS patients communicate after they’ve lost their abilities to speak, it doesn’t include all the mannerisms that make each person’s speech unique. Professor Hawking in fact had to settle with an American voice, despite him being of English origin.
The Rolls Royce Quips was designed to tackle this very problem. It lets users retain their own quirks, accents, slang and even colloquialisms that they used to have initially.
To make things more interesting, Quips also aims to make communication ‘closer to real-time.’ This means that now, patients wouldn’t have to go through multiple pauses while typing out a response, or be restricted to using only a prescribed set of words.
The new tech does this by listening in on their speech, taking into account their previous conversations and thereby suggesting words and phrases that the user would most probably use in a particular context.
Additionally, Quips is also said to adapt to different social situations. So, it comes in handy whether a person is at home, at work or even at a fun place like a bar.
The Future For ALS Patients
Rolls Royce’s R2 Labs which has initiated this project mentioned that the tech is still in its early stages of development. But they insist that it won’t be long before Quips gets integrated with other tools that are already assisting ALS patients.
Being able to express one’s thoughts using one’s own voice is a key element in effective communication. It’s devastating to know that there are people who have to live with the growing fear of losing that capability one day.
Rolls Royce Quips is therefore a ray of hope for all these souls fighting ALS.
Technology sure can surprise you at times, but when it inspires and moves people, we can be very sure that humans have done something right with their time in this world!
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