Among its many uses, the Say it Sign it software could eliminate the need for human sign language interpreters at meetings and conferences, says IBM.
IBM says it has developed a computer program that will automatically convert the spoken word to sign language that can be animated on a display screen by a digital avatar.
The company said in an announcement Thursday that its SiSi (Say it Sign it) software uses speech recognition technology to convert the spoken word to text, which is then used by the host computer to control the movements of an screen avatar gesturing in British Sign Language.
IBM researchers envision a number of uses for the technology. It could be employed by business conference organizers to project a signing avatar on a display screen for the benefit of hearing impaired attendees. SiSi would also eliminate the need for them to hire human sign language interpreters.
SiSi could also be loaded on a portable computing device to allow individuals to more easily communicate with deaf family members. Conceivably, the technology could also be used to add sign language capabilities to avatars in virtual reality environments like Second Life. IBM has yet to disclose how it plans to commercially market SiSi.
An estimated 55,000 deaf or hearing impaired U.K. citizens communicate using British Sign Language, which differs significantly in a number of respects from American Sign Language. IBM hasn't said if it's developing a similar system for ASL, but the company now appears to have the fundamental technologies in place to do so.
Officials at advocacy groups for the deaf are welcoming the breakthrough. "It is encouraging to see that mainstream research is contributing to the objective of a more inclusive society," said Guido Gybels, director of new technologies at the U.K.'s Royal National Institute For Deaf People, in a statement.
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