Irish tech company helps children’s voices to be heard

Although personal AI (Ai) assistants have become more integrated into our daily lives, these are only one type of voice technology and were originally designed for adults.
SoapBox Labs, an Irish startup in tech, wants to make this a reality. Dublin-based SoapBox Labs has created speech recognition technology specifically for children. It’s used in a variety of apps, including toys and education apps.
Patricia Scanlon (SoapBox’s founder and executive chairman) explains that children have voices that are different from adults. She says that children often use a different pitch, or speak in a different way than adults, and regular voice technology is unable to pick this up.
CNN Business explains that it is understandable that an industry which has focused on technology for decades would have a problem trying to make children a part of that.
SoapBox created its own voice engine, rather than using existing voice technology. It focuses on children 2-12 years old. SoapBox claims it built its AI software from scratch. This data collection includes thousands of hours of speech from children in noisy real-world environments such as classrooms, cars, and kitchens. It also contains information from over 192 different countries.
Scanlon says, “A system such as ours is extremely individualized and focused on getting high-accuracy and age-appropriate answers for children.”

Play or educate

This creates a new market that is growing in demand. More than 8 billion digital voice assistants are expected to be in use by 2024, up from 4 billion in 2020, and there is an increased focus on adapting the tech for children. In 2020, Amazon launched the next generation of the Echo Dot Kids Edition, its child-focused Alexa device.
SoapBox is a company that sells technology, not a product. It was founded in 2013, and since then has received more than $12,000,000 in funding . More than 50 customers have come from all over the globe. According to the company, it can be divided into two types: “educate” or “play”.
Scanlon says technology is a great tool for helping children learn to read and learn languages. She says that the technology acts as a “helpful adult”, responding to children immediately and providing one-to-one support. It can also be used to track progress of the child, provide feedback to parents, or help teachers.
SoapBox is a partner with several online education firms, including Amplify in New York, Florida Center for Reading Research, and Lingumi (a UK-based English-learning app).
Toy designers and gaming companies are also using the technology to make voice-enabled toys, which can talk to children or create immersive virtual oraugmented reality experiences.
Lynne Hall is a professor of computer science at University of Sunderland, UK. She agrees with the idea of children’s voice technology.
Hall says it provides an extra learning channel, and gives “endless access” to skills and facts. She envisions that the technology could be used in classrooms to support teaching. She says that voice recognition is likely to make screen-based experiences more engaging.
Scanlon thinks it will increase engagement in games and education. She says, “When children interact using this technology there is a magic that occurs and an increase in engagement.” They feel heard and understood by technology.

Privacy Protection

Andy Robertson is the author of Taming Gaming, a book that focuses on video games and parents. He believes SoapBox has the correct approach.
Robertson says that the product “[It] ticks all of the boxes for parents.” It’s not a product that was designed for adults, but for kids. They can ensure compliance with all important regulations, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (US) or the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (EU for Kids), when interacting with kids.
SoapBox claims it doesn’t identify its users and that its voice data is not sold or shared to third parties. It is also used only to assist in marketing and advertising.
Scanlon says, “We respect digital privacy rights for kids. They are very different from that of adults.”

Publiated at Mon, 23 August 2021 8:57:21 +0000

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