Imagine yourself living in the Stone Age; with no access to your mobile or laptop or for that matter even your fancy car. Difficult, isn’t it? To say our lives are dependent upon the new age tools and technologies would be a gross understatement. With passing years, science has made tremendous progress; with inventions leading to accessible tools which have ultimately shaped our lives. The field of speech and language therapy is no different. Communication skills are the base of the human relationship; we use various forms of speech to communicate, share emotions. But technology is playing a major role in new discoveries. Many ailments, which in past were considered beyond human control can now be easily cured. Let’s look at three major discoveries in speech and language therapy.
Robots & autistic Children
Gone are the days when robots were only used for tasks like moving objects or in operation theatres or in the ‘infamous’ Hollywood blockbuster series – Transformers. Scientists have successfully been able to develop robots who can be talked to or tickled with by children. One example of it is Kasper, developed by the researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, it can be used by doctors to detect autism in infants. Earlier, detecting autism in initial stages was extraordinarily difficult as it could only be detected by monitoring a child’s social skills like interaction with his surrounding, which develop only after a certain age; thus leading to delay in detection. But with advent of Kasper, things have changed for the good.
This robot can be used to detect autism in the initial stages as it detects symptoms through nonverbal communication like body movements and facial expressions. Also, Kasper can be a good motivation for children as the robot is child friendly and plays the role of a companion effectively.
Patients with chronic speech impairments
Until few years ago, the capacity to be able to interact or to express themselves was a distant reality. For instance, for stroke victims, loss of speech can be a common and deliberating consequence. However, recent developments in form of a new computerized treatment, which helps patients in gradually rebuilding speech has allowed the patients to be able to speak again. The technology is effectively used by doctors to give high-intensity stimulation through images to patients with high stroke and brain damage. And the results have been phenomenal, as doctors were able to improve the damaged nerve systems and enable such patients to speak again. For some, this may be “the usual science geeky stuff”, but for those who suffer from such ailments, this is nothing short of a miracle.
When we pay attention to speech, we are exceptionally forgiving: we can efficiently figure out words against the engine noise or the sound of colliding waves; filter out a particular voice amidst the uproar of an unruly crowd; handle unfamiliar accents, or make out the emotion in a speech. Though breakthroughs have been made both in speech synthesis and speech recognition technology in recent years, however, machines are still long behind when compared to the human ability of catching up or interacting fast and naturally; continually adapting and learning as we do so. But the researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Sheffield have accomplished this feat too. They have been able to develop a machine which is able to make speech technologies more usable and natural by shrinking the performance gap between machine and humans. Now imagine the next time you speak amidst an unruly crowd and a computer being effectively able to decipher your words and pass on the message or the voice assistant in your smartphone being able to decipher your commands even in a crowded field.
Apart from being revolutionary, these developments have been able to fundamentally alter our lifestyle. Technology, apart from bridging the divide is also positively impacting the medical science. Diseases which in past, posed phenomenal challenges can now be easily diagnosed. Doctors sitting thousands of miles away can conduct complex surgeries using these discoveries. I wonder if there ever was a more effective tool than technology!