Computerized Lip-Reading Crime Fighters

A Computerized lip-reading system is now under development at the University of East Anglia. The three year project will collect data for lip-reading; engineers will then design hardware and software capable of converting videos of lip-motions directly into text.

Surrey University has already built accurate face and lip tracking devices at their Centre for Vision, Speech & Signal Processing. The computer lip-reading project will continue this work. The University of East Anglia has received a substantial $765,000 grant to complete the project.

Britain's Home Office Scientific Development Branch is also interested. It is hoped that videos of potential criminals could be analyzed and their comments recorded, even in circumstances where audio recording is impossible.

Dr. Richard Harvey, senior lecturer at UEA's School of Computing Sciences, is leading the project:

"To be effective the systems must accurately track the head over a variety of poses, extract numbers, or features, that describe the lips and then learn what features correspond to what text.

"To tackle the problem we will need to use information collected from audio speech. So this project will also investigate how to use the extensive information known about audio speech to recognise visual speech.

"The work will be highly experimental. We hope to have produced a system that will demonstrate the ability to lip-read in more general situations than we have done so far."
(From Crime Fighting Potential For Computerized Lip-reading)

Science fiction fans have seen this future before. In the film 2001:A Space Odyssey, the HAL 9000 computer was able to read lips.


(HAL 9000 [background] eavesdrops on astronauts Poole and Bowman)

In the film, HAL's increasingly erratic behavior becomes a matter of concern for the astronauts. Since HAL can effectively monitor every part of the ship, the astronauts retire to a small pod to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, it turns out that somebody did research on computer lip-reading, and so HAL was on to them, with very unfortunate results for Poole.

It's interesting to note that scientists and engineers have been thinking for more than a generation about what it might take to do computerized lip-reading. A patent was issued to IBM in 1965 for a device consisting of an array of photocells that captured the reflected light emitted from the oral cavity region. This information, along with facial articulatory movements, would be essential in trying to enable Optical Automatic Speech Recognition.

Thanks to reader William Lengeman for pointing this item out; he also remarks that this system would dovetail neatly with the earlier article on Onboard Threat Detection System For Big Brother Airlines. See also an interesting 1992 NSF paper on Facial Expression Understanding.

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