EVL researchers land INTERSPEECH nomination

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“What’s that? I can’t hear over the background noise.”
PhD Candidate John Novak and Professor Robert Ken-yon set out to address the issue of helping people un-derstand speech better in difficult situations by devel-oping computerized tools customized to user needs with their research paper, “Effects of User Controlled Speech Rate on Intelligibility in Noisy Environments.”
Their paper was one of twelve nominated out of hun-dreds of accepted papers and over 2,500 submissions for INTERSPEECH 2018 being held in Hyderabad, India September 2-6. INTERSPEECH is the world’s largest and most comprehensive conference on the science and technology of spoken language processing.
Novak explained their research in more detail. “The dif-ficult situation is a type of background noise called ‘cocktail party noise,’ which is exactly what it sounds like: multiple people talking in the background of a tar-get voice,” he said. “The computer mediated tool was a method of artificially slowing speech without causing distortion, especially without dropping the pitch of the voices. This is something that talkers do naturally [in addition to speaking louder] to help their listeners, but we wanted to put some control in the hands of the lis-tener. We believe this is very important, although very difficult to achieve.”
The nomination was a surprise for Novak. “I was as confident about this as I’ve been about any other sub-mission but being nominated for a best student paper award never even entered my mind,” he said.
Besides the surprise of being nominated, Novak was especially grateful for the support he has received from “various mentors, advisors, and sounding boards I’ve found here at UIC including most especially Professor Robert Kenyon and everyone at the Electronics Visuali-zation Lab, and Professor Valeriy Shafiro, an audiologist at Rush University, who got me interested in this line of research in the first place. And of course the many vol-unteers and test subjects who have taken part in these experiments,” he said.
Novak will present his research on September 2nd at the beginning of the conference in hopes of landing a best student paper award. Regardless, Novak already sees the entire experience as a win already.
“I have only even been outside the United States once, before, so I am very excited about the trip,” he said. “It’s a working trip, so I am looking forward to work-shops, renewing acquaintances, and putting faces to more of the researchers I’ve been in contact with most-ly through e-mail.”