Stories: SoapBox is used as part of programme backed by Mark Zuckerberg
The Florida Center for Reading Research, which is part of Florida State University, announced a multi-year partnership with Dublin based, kids’ speech recognition technology company SoapBox Labs, to create and deliver next-generation language and literacy assessments that could transform how young children around the world learn to read.
Literacy remains a challenge for millions of children around the world. The partnership between SoapBox Labs and FCRR is part of the Reach Every Reader initiative. The program was launched in early 2018 and is supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr Priscilla Chan, through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The $30 million project aims to identify children who have reading and language difficulties early on so that appropriate interventions can take place that will make a difference.
“SoapBox Labs has developed a unique speech recognition technology that actually works for children,” said Dr. Yaacov Petscher, an Associate Director at FCRR and Associate Professor at the FSU College of Social Work. “This collaboration is about harnessing the transformative potential of speech recognition technology to develop next-generation literacy assessments that will enable educators to better understand children’s reading and language skills.”
The Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University will study how the speech-recognition technology fares in pilots with 1,000 students in grades K-2 across Florida, Georgia, Oregon and South Carolina.
Technology “to help children with literacy and fluency”
Unlike the speech recognition technology found in mainstream voice assistants, SoapBox Labs’ was created specifically for kids and their early literacy needs. The technology uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to develop cloud-based speech recognition solutions and has been popularly dubbed as “Siri for kids”, but it is more complex than that might suggest.
Patricia Scanlon, the founder and CEO of SoapBox Labs, says her team has captured thousands of hours of audio samples from children across 170 countries. The goal is to build a robust data set that reflects the range of dialects and pronunciations in which English is spoken across the world. This summer, the company submitted a paper to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that acknowledges the risks involved in collecting children’s data for speech-recognition systems and outlines the “privacy by design” principles that it follows.
“It’s hard to imagine a future,” she says, “where speech recognition technology won’t be used to help children with literacy and fluency”, added the founder and CEO of SoapBox Labs during an interview to the website Edsurge.
Scanlon was one of two Irish women named by Forbes magazine in its global “top 50 women in tech” ranking last year. In the last two years, SoapBox Labs has raised €3.3 million from investors, including Elsktone and a Phase 2 grant from the EIC pilot SME Instrument in 2018 of 1.486.923€. The company was also featured on Silicon Republic's 10 amazing European AI startups to watch list.