Tag Archives: captions

Bringing Live Transcribe’s Speech Engine to Everyone

Earlier this year, Google launched Live Transcribe, an Android application that provides real-time automated captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Through many months of user testing, we've learned that robustly delivering good captions for long-form conversations isn't so easy, and we want to make it easier for developers to build upon what we've learned. Live Transcribe's speech recognition is provided by Google's state-of-the-art Cloud Speech API, which under most conditions delivers pretty impressive transcript accuracy. However, relying on the cloud introduces several complications—most notably robustness to ever-changing network connections, data costs, and latency. Today, we are sharing our transcription engine with the world so that developers everywhere can build applications with robust transcription.

Those who have worked with our Cloud Speech API know that sending infinitely long streams of audio is currently unsupported. To help solve this challenge, we take measures to close and restart streaming requests prior to hitting the timeout, including restarting the session during long periods of silence and closing whenever there is a detected pause in the speech. Otherwise, this would result in a truncated sentence or word. In between sessions, we buffer audio locally and send it upon reconnection. This reduces the amount of text lost mid-conversation—either due to restarting speech requests or switching between wireless networks.

Endlessly streaming audio comes with its own challenges. In many countries, network data is quite expensive and in spots with poor internet, bandwidth may be limited. After much experimentation with audio codecs (in particular, we evaluated the FLAC, AMR-WB, and Opus codecs), we were able to achieve a 10x reduction in data usage without compromising accuracy. FLAC, a lossless codec, preserves accuracy completely, but doesn't save much data. It also has noticeable codec latency. AMR-WB, on the other hand, saves a lot of data, but delivers much worse accuracy in noisy environments. Opus was a clear winner, allowing data rates many times lower than most music streaming services while still preserving the important details of the audio signal—even in noisy environments. Beyond relying on codecs to keep data usage to a minimum, we also support using speech detection to close the network connection during extended periods of silence. That means if you accidentally leave your phone on and running Live Transcribe when nobody is around, it stops using your data.

Finally, we know that if you are relying on captions, you want them immediately, so we've worked hard to keep latency to a minimum. Though most of the credit for speed goes to the Cloud Speech API, Live Transcribe's final trick lies in our custom Opus encoder. At the cost of only a minor increase in bitrate, we see latency that is visually indistinguishable to sending uncompressed audio.

Today, we are excited to make all of this available to developers everywhere. We hope you'll join us in trying to build a world that is more accessible for everyone.

By Chet Gnegy, Alex Huang, and Ausmus Chang from the Live Transcribe Team

Visualizing Sound Effects

At YouTube, we understand the power of video to tell stories, move people, and leave a lasting impression. One part of storytelling that many people take for granted is sound, yet sound adds color to the world around us. Just imagine not being able to hear music, the joy of a baby laughing, or the roar of a crowd. But this is often a reality for the 360 million people around the world who are deaf and hard of hearing. Over the last decade, we have been working to change that.

The first step came over ten years ago with the launch of captions. And in an effort to scale this technology, automated captions came a few years later. The success of that effort has been astounding, and a few weeks ago we announced that the number of videos with automatic captions now exceeds 1 billion. Moreover, people watch videos with automatic captions more than 15 million times per day. And we have made meaningful improvements to quality, resulting in a 50 percent leap in accuracy for automatic captions in English, which is getting us closer and closer to human transcription error rates.

But there is more to sound and the enjoyment of a video than words. In a joint effort between YouTube, Sound Understanding, and Accessibility teams, we embarked on the task of developing the first ever automatic sound effect captioning system for YouTube. This means finding a way to identify and label all those other sounds in the video without manual input.

We started this project by taking on a wide variety of challenges, such as how to best design the sound effect recognition system and what sounds to prioritize. At the heart of the work was utilizing thousands of hours of videos to train a deep neural network model to achieve high quality recognition results. There are more details in a companion post here.

As a result, we can now automatically detect the existence of these sound effects in a video and transcribe it to appropriate classes or sound labels. With so many sounds to choose from, we started with [APPLAUSE], [MUSIC] and [LAUGHTER], since these were among the most frequent manually captioned sounds, and they can add meaningful context for viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing.

So what does this actually look like when you are watching a YouTube video? The sound effect is merged with the automatic speech recognition track and shown as part of standard automatic captions.

Click the CC button to see the sound effect captioning system in action

We are still in the early stages of this work, and we are aware that these captions are fairly simplistic. However, the infrastructural backend to this system will allow us to expand and easily apply this framework to other sound classes. Future challenges might include adding other common sound classes like ringing, barking and knocking, which present particular problems -- for example, with ringing we need to be able to decipher if this is an alarm clock, a door or a phone as described here.

Since the addition of sound effect captions presented a number of unique challenges on both the machine learning end as well as the user experience, we continue to work to better understand the effect of the captioning system on the viewing experience, how viewers use sound effect information, and how useful it is to them. From our initial user studies, two-thirds of participants said these sound effect captions really enhance the overall experience, especially when they added crucial “invisible” sound information that people cannot tell from the visual cues. Overall, users reported that their experience wouldn't be impacted by the system making occasional mistakes as long as it was able to provide good information more often than not.

We are excited to support automatic sound effect captioning on YouTube, and we hope this system helps us make information useful and accessible for everyone.

Noah Wang, software engineer, recently watched "The Expert (Short Comedy Sketch)."