A recap of ASRU 2019
In December we attended the IEEE Automatic Speech Recognition and Understanding Workshop (ASRU) in Singapore. In this blog post our CTO, Xavier Anguera, shares his highlights of the conference.
ELSA co-founder and CTO
When I joined ELSA Speak in 2015, I was tasked with the challenge to build and lead the engineering and research teams at ELSA. My professional path until that point had been focused on research in speech and multimedia technologies, both in academia and corporate. This new challenge has been so far both a great learning experience and a hell of a ride!
In this post I highlight the main differences that exist, in my opinion, between the research team we have built at ELSA and some of the realities I have been able to observe so far during my professional career. I am aware that both academic and corporate research have many implementation variants, all of them valid if the objectives they set themselves are achieved.
At ELSA we were set from the start with the objective to build the best English language speech assistant for people that feel shy to practice English with another human or do not have the opportunity or means to do so. Our goal was to build an accurate system to detect what pronunciation/intonation mistakes users make when speaking English, and to help them improve by offering relevant feedback. Building such a system was not a trivial task, and I don’t think we are done yet, but what I found most challenging (although also very interesting) has been to always keep a balance between pure research and continuous delivery of results.
Building a product out of your research at ELSA has been quite different from the research I was used to in universities and corporations I have been lucky to be part of. Research in a small startup means, among other things, that you need to choose very carefully what problems you want to solve, making sure that you can make good progress in a reasonable time. In addition, you need to continuously measure your progress and be able to quickly switch gears if you see the project is not going in the direction you were initially expecting and is stagnating. Money in a small startup is a finite resource, and your research is likely to have an impact on the near/mid-term future of the company.
In addition, here are some other differences I have observed over the years:
Our researchers at ELSA actively participate in the whole lifecycle of the product, starting from the conception phase, discussing with the product team about the features to be built, all the way to the productization, interacting with developers on how to integrate the research into the apps, and finally testing and monitoring of its performance. This generates a strong feeling of ownership of the features we make possible through our research and a sense of accomplishment when we see people use them and we help them improve their lives through language education.
In 2020 we are planning to expand our speech research team. We are looking for people with a PhD in speech/AI and some experience building products. If you like our ELSA app and you believe you would be a good contributor of our research team, send us your CV at [email protected]