Fascination with Artificial Intelligence Fuels Research
Engineering Professor Stephen Zahorian has always been fascinated with artificial intelligence and human-computer interactions. His hope is that eventually people will be able to talk to their computers just as they talk to one another. But when that will be is the question.
“Progress is being made, but what I see is incremental progress,” Professor Stephen Zahorian says. “Trying to duplicate what humans can do is such an immensely difficult problem.”
And although the chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering knows speech recognition technology will not be like it is in futuristic, science-fiction movies until after his lifetime, he’s making progress toward that outcome in his own research.
Conducting research on automatic speech recognition since his days as a graduate student at Syracuse University, Zahorian has developed a speech therapy tool that provides a visual speech display and gives onscreen feedback to the user. This can be used to help the hearing impaired learn to speak, as well as aid those with speech impediments.
There are some major advantages to using a computer program, rather than an actual person, for speech training. Computers are nonjudgmental and much less expensive than one-on-one speech training. Plus, a computer never gets tired or wants to stop.
“The idea of something with more of a human component in engineering is something I have always found to be compelling and rewarding,” said Zahorian, who has also developed a method for pitch extraction and pitch tracking, that is more accurate than all other similar methods in the world. His fundamental frequency tracking algorithm is extremely robust for both high quality and telephone speech.
In addition to his research, Zahorian has enabled significant progress for his department. Since coming to Binghamton in 2006, research activity in the department has doubled, and external funding for research has grown, setting records in both 2008 and 2009.
Zahorian, originally from Elmira, N.Y., always dreamed of doing something for this area, so jumped at the opportunity to come to Binghamton. Since his arrival, he’s been pleased with the type of students the school enrolls.
“Because of the reputation of Binghamton, we are attracting some of the top students in New York state,” he says. “The students are very capable.”
With so many responsibilities involved in teaching and being department chair, Zahorian doesn’t have as much time as he would like for his research, but would never give up the other things he does.
“I plan on being here for the foreseeable future,” he says. “I’m happy here. I like the University and I really want to help the department succeed.”