For a deaf person, a group conversation is a difficult situation. For most people, it’s a great opportunity, with ideas flowing and all kinds of social cues going out. For a deaf person, it’s usually an exhausting confusion as they try to hold the thread of a conversation that’s changing every instant.
Over the years I’ve heard of and investigated lots of options for solving this problem. The usual ones are:
- Get an interpreter (I don’t know sign language though)
- Hire a live captioner (120 bucks an hour makes for a pretty expensive Friday night at your buddy’s house)
- Get a friend to help you (not a single person on earth who has a long enough attention span)
- Only hang out in small groups (makes for a dull social life)
- Say “what?” a lot (at least my friends find it entertaining, even if I don’t)
When I heard about Transcense’s IndieGoGo fundraiser and beta program, I contacted them right away. They’re making a phone app that captions speech in real-time, separating different speakers with different coloured speech balloons. Voice-to-text technology has been around for decades, but to date, as far as I know, it’s not good. Certainly not good enough to be useful in everyday life (try YouTube’s automatic caption service for an entertaining demo).
To my surprise their lead developer, Thibault, Skyped me from San Francisco to talk about it and show me how it works. From what I could see in the brief demo we had, it was pretty good. The things I said, distorted through my mic and his computer’s speakers, received by his phone in their SF office, were transcribed correctly alongside his half of the conversation, with our respective voices in different coloured speech bubbles. There was a tiny bit of lag, but it seemed like it might be short enough to allow me to follow the conversation and keep up.
So I’m hopeful that they’ll be successful. They’ve been at work for a year or so and have venture capital funding, not to mention a guaranteed user base if they are as good as hoped. I’ll certainly be signing up for the paid version.