5 questions about the new voice technology master
Where did the idea for this new master programme come from?
‘Voice tech is a huge industry right now. All major tech companies use it and develop it, but there’s not much going on in the Netherlands, or in Europe for that matter. It’s also very much based on the market value of products, instead of the societal value.
We wanted to balance two things: do socially valuable research with voice tech and develop it in this way, and also create a master programme where we not only produce scholars, but people who leave with some experience in the industry.’
What does the programme entail?
‘It’s an interdisciplinary approach where students don’t just write a thesis, but also build a demo which shows the kind of work they’ve been doing. An example of what we’re working on right now is recognising disease from speech, like some doctors can. When they hear the voice of a patient they can recognise with some degree of reliability whether a patient has, for example, Parkinson’s disease.’
It sounds like the programme is more inclined towards technical students.
‘You’re right, the first students you think of are computer science students or from artificial intelligence. But it’s actually much broader than that. To get back to the example of recognising disease from speech, it’s really not about machine learning. It’s actually about perception.
What is the cue in the signal that the doctors recognise? Recognition is of course also psychological. You need a team of people from different backgrounds to be able to truly push this project further.’
Is this also the goal of the master programme?
‘In a way, yes. Some of the courses are really technical, like programming and machine learning, there’s no way around it. But others are much more about the social sciences, about language and sound perception, for example. What is sound, what is language? How do we measure it? How do we perceive it?
By teaming up students from different backgrounds and making them work together, each background has its own expertise in a different class, and they’ll be able to help each other and learn how to communicate with one another.
Sometimes the difficulty is that scientists from one field talk to people from another field and even if we use the same words we can’t understand each other. The intellectual constructs behind those words are so different, that in both our languages they don’t actually mean the same thing.
A word like ‘sound’ can mean one thing to a physicist and a different thing to a psychologist. Which one is correct? It depends. And this is what students will be able to learn by working together.’
So by attracting students from different fields, this will encourage a new understanding for a technological leap forwards?
Yes, exactly, we believe the innovation will come from connecting the fields and creating a more profound understanding of both fields. Until now tech companies have always asked what we can do, rather than what we should do. That’s where the university has a role to fulfil, thinking of the societal impact of technology and working on projects which may not be interesting for the market, but will add a big social value.
I think there’s a lot of space to do so in voice tech. There are tons of social challenges to be found, that have no market value, but do improve quality of life. We hope to tackle these and add value for both the students in the programme and society.’