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Voice Stress Detection In Emergency Callers
Voice stress analysis software developed in the Netherlands is being used to help triage emergency medical responses.
"Stress and negative emotions, in general, have a strong influence on voice characteristics," the researchers explain. "Because speech is a natural means of communication, we can utilise the sound patterns of speech to detect stress and (negative) emotions in a non-intrusive way by monitoring the communication." Factors such as how quickly a person is talking, whether or not there are rises and falls in pitch and tone and breathing rate, all change when we are stressed and can be detected.
The team has now "trained" a computer algorithm that receives audio input from emergency calls to assess the emotive level of the callers' speech. Four different training techniques were used with recordings from actual emergencies of known outcome and the team says their error rates are as low as 4.2% for a database of call centre recordings used in the research. Optimisation of the algorithm using a larger training set and more robust statistical tools might improve that still further.
The researchers expect the system to have military applications in the first instance. However, it could be adapted to the civilian emergency services and perhaps other applications, such as criminal investigations.
Science fiction readers of course recall that the HAL-9000 system from the 1968 novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey was able to detect the stress in voice samples. Here is the exchange between Dave Bowman and the HAL-9000, as described in Arthur C. Clarke's novel:
"Hal, switch to manual hibernation control."
"I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you're badly upset. Why don't you take a stress pill and get some rest?"
"Hal, I am in command of this ship. I order you to release the manual hibernation control."
"I'm sorry, Dave, but in accordance with special subroutine C1435-dash-4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the onboard computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, overrule your authority, since you are not in any condition to exercise it intelligently."
"Hal," said Bowman, now speaking with an icy calm. "I am not incapacitated. Unless you obey my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you."
(Read more about HAL-9000.)
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