Magazine article National Defense

Helping Computers Understand Natural Human Speech

Magazine article National Defense

Helping Computers Understand Natural Human Speech

Article excerpt

One of the fictional technologies on the "Star Trek" television series enabled humans to interact with a ship's computer system simply by talking. The sci-fi computer could understand entire sentences and converse almost naturally.

In today's automated world, rudimentary versions of the sci-fi technology come in the form of speech recognition systems that pick up key words and phrases to help consumers accomplish menial tasks. But the communications are often stilted and awkward at best, and limited in scope.

To aid computers in comprehending conversational speech, researchers are developing software that enables systems to extract meaning and context from a string of sentences. One such technology is called "Spoken Language Interaction for Computing Environments." By being able to understand a speaker's intent and draw logical inferences based upon available information, the system can interact with humans in a richer way, says Kenny Sharma, an engineer at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Advanced Technology Laboratories. The software is flexible and can be applied to a broad range of industries, he says.

One application is in batdefield medicine. The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services have paired up to fund die development of a medical voice documentation system that will allow medics and surgical teams to collect patient information as they administer care to casualties.

Little, if any, data about a trauma case gets passed along the chain of medical intervention in the war zones. From the time a casualty first receives tactical care to when a medevac transports him to a field hospital, the focus is on saving die patient's life rather tiian spending precious minutes gathering information on injuries and treatments.

"If we can passively capture that information, it's really valuable stuff," says Sharma, a member of the Lockheed Martin team developing the prototype.

The system audio records medical personnel as they speak during treatment. It simultaneously transcribes the information by using an electronic form based upon the medic casualty card created by die 75th U.S. Army Ranger Regiment. Key data including the cause of injuries, the types and doses of medication administered, the timing of treatments and die status of the casualty are captured instantaneously and can be transmitted in seconds to die next intervention team.

"If you have a system that can fill in that report format for you and relate the data togetiier . …

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