26 Mar

NYTimes.com – Next-Generation Scientists

The research paper they submitted for the school expo was 30 pages of code and 60 pages of writing to explain it. “Emotion is innately meta information,” Matt says, “and that’s why it’s a real challenge. A lot of people base their algorithms off of speech-recognition systems because those have been established. But emotion is a really different task, and it’s a different goal.” For one, in speech recognition, sequence is essential; get the sounds out of order, and you mess up the words. In emotion recognition, the order isn’t nearly as important as various measures of energy and pitch. Determining what information to pay attention to in the audio signal and how to process it involves imagination, some sticky calculus and a lot of trial and error. “We tried to think of something new,” Akash says of the algorithm they built, “instead of using what other people tried to do.” The algorithm they came up with allows them to determine the emotion of a speaker by measuring 57 different features of an audio signal against a prerecorded signal that’s already been defined by a human listener as, say, “happy” or “angry.” Their algorithm doesn’t yet recognize confidence, or sarcasm, but what it does do (imperfectly, but better than the rest of the field) is detect fear, anger, joy and sadness in real time, without eating up so much processing power as to be impractical in a handheld device.

Their project won the team competition at last year’s expo, and they went on to represent O.E.S. at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, where they received the team award in physical sciences. In the fall, now juniors, they entered the Siemens Competition, one of two premier science competitions in the nation, and made it to the nationals in Washington, where they won the team grand prize. With the honor came $100,000 in scholarship money and two thick glass plaques — one sits above the fireplace in Matt’s house, the other in the dining room of Akash’s. When I met them last month, they had just returned from ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. “Someone gave us his card,” Akash says, “and said, ‘When you make your company, be sure to give us a call.’ ”

via NYTimes.com – Next-Generation Scientists. Impressive work.