Voice recognition software isn’t altogether new to the public, but with the introduction of programs like the iPhone’s “Siri,” it will quickly become a ubiquitous tool in our lives. But outside of sending text messages or looking for great tacos nearby, voice recognition may be able to help doctors diagnose a disease much earlier (and much cheaper) than ever before.
Max Little, from the University of Oxford, has been using voice recognition software to detect changes in a person’s voice over time as a way to either confirm, or detect the onset of, Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that is normally diagnosed through an analysis of symptoms, along with lengthy and expensive tests to rule out other possible conditions. However, there is no true concrete method of detecting it at this time.
Mr. Little is hoping to change that by taking recordings of a person’s voice over a period of time and using an advanced algorithm to analyze changes in their voice and compare those changes to many subjects who have been confirmed to have Parkinson’s disease. Using data that he collected from 50 patients with Parkinson’s who had their voice recorded once a week for six months, he was able to “teach” his machine to detect common changes among all of them. In recent tests, he was able to figure out which patients had the disease and which didn’t with 86 percent accuracy.
Now, Little is hoping to improve his testing with the aid of crowd sourcing. He is inviting the public to call in to a phone number that he has established and leave recordings so that he can improve his software. He aims to collect another 10,000 voices, and is encouraging people from around the world to help him out so that his software can learn as much as possible.
Little is quick to say that his program will not replace any clinical experts, but rather offer them a quicker and cheaper diagnostic alternative to what they current employ, while at the same time providing them with data on the symptoms of the disease and how they change over time.
It’s incredibly interesting that a technology that allows us to talk to our phones to figure out if it will rain or not, or to order movie tickets, is also able to do something amazing like diagnose degenerative diseases and further medical research.