Sunday, July 14, 2024

STEPHEN JOHN YOUNG, THE MAN WHO TAUGHT INFORMATION SYSTEMS TO TALK

Stephen Young is a British researcher, entrepreneur and professor of Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge. A man of outstanding intelligence, who is one of the first developers of statistical spoken dialogue systems and automated speech recognition. Learn more about him at liverpool-future.com.

Early years

Stephen was born in Liverpool on January 23, 1951. He has been curious since his childhood. Young Stephen loved to read, study, research and learn new things.

Studying was easy for him. He also had a knack for the exact sciences. He easily entered one of the best educational institutions in England, the University of Cambridge and brilliantly completed the course.

In 1973, Stephen Young received a BA in Electrical Sciences, and in 1978, a PhD in speech recognition. He also gave lectures in Cambridge and Manchester. In 1994, he headed the Department of Information Engineering at his native University of Cambridge.

Career

Not all users of modern technologies know the name of Stephen Young, but he is widely known among the professionals of the sphere. Everyone knows him as the leading author of the HTK toolkit, a software toolkit for HMM (the hidden Markov model) processing. It is used to model time series that help in speech recognition.

The initial version of the toolkit was developed by Stephen Young at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at the Cambridge University Engineering Department (the CUED). As the HTK toolkit continued to grow in popularity, not only in the UK but also worldwide, Microsoft decided to make the toolkit available again by bringing back the licence to the CUED, thus making the software available to everyone. The toolkit’s tutorial book has received more than 7,000 citations.

At the end of the 90s of the last century, Stephen Young’s scientific interests changed a little bit. He became interested in the development of statistical spoken dialogue systems. The researcher’s most significant contribution to this field is the development of POMDP (partially observable Markov decision process), which was created taking into account a ready-made set of dialogue management tools.

His works were aimed at the development of such spoken dialogue systems that wouldn’t be affected by loud human speech recognition devices. In addition, those systems had to cope with adapting online when communicating with real people. A vivid example is the application of the Gaussian process, which is based on RL (reinforcement learning) for active improvement of the approach efficiency.

In recent years, Stephen Young and a group of his associates have successfully applied reinforcement learning techniques to various submodules of statistical dialogue systems. Eventually, he won many awards for the best reports on his method at prestigious international conferences.

Entrepreneurship

They say that a talented person is talented in everything. Stephen Young proves that statement true. He showed outstanding abilities not only in the field of information engineering but also in entrepreneurship. Stephen Young played a key role in significant acquisitions of the following companies:

  • VocallQ. This company is engaged in modern dialogue technologies. It developed the world’s first practical programming user interface for dialogue systems. VocallQ technologies have provided the latest platform for voice interfaces. It allows the use of mobile devices with voice support. The company was acquired by Apple in 2015.
  • Entropic. It is a developer of software for the recognition of human speech. It also designed and improved a programme for voice communication on the Internet through mobile operators. Entropic was acquired by Microsoft in 1999.
  • Phonetic Arts. The company is engaged in speech synthesis. It has developed and supplied technologies that help create natural, expressive human speech. It was a real breakthrough of the time! For example, those innovations allowed the heroes of computer games to say phrases in different voices and with an emotional intonation. The company was acquired by Google in 2010.

Awards, positions and titles

In 2004, Stephen Young received the IEEE Signal Processing Society Technical Achievement Award, and in 2010, he was awarded the ISCA Medal for Scientific Achievement. In addition, the researcher is a recipient of the European Signal Processing Society Award and the IEEE Award for sound and speech processing.

In 2020, Young became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 2022, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (on the Queen’s Birthday) for his services to software development.

Nowadays, linguistic interactions between information systems and users are not surprising. They seem natural, simple and convenient. However, we shouldn’t forget that we got this opportunity thanks to Stephen Young, a talented person and an outstanding researcher from Liverpool. The programmes developed by Young continue to improve continuously, which means that in the near future, we will have improved technology and amazing innovations.

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