Friday, 05 March 2010 11:56

A new feather in YouTube's cap: automagic auto-captioning!

If you've ever wanted YouTube videos to offer text captioning of whatever is being spoken, whether for accessibility reasons or because you want to follow the action without needing to increase the volume, go ogle YouTube's latest feature: auto-captioning!

Taking advantage of Google's amazing advances in voice recognition technology, YouTube has today launched an automatic captioning service for YouTube videos that works in English, while also having the Babelfish-like feature of offering automatic translations from English into any one of 50 different languages.

Representing one of the 'largest accessibility projects of its kind', Google and YouTube happily boast that the new development will 'open up millions of YouTube videos to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing', with language translation also an amazing feature in itself.

YouTube's official blog posting described the development thus: 'One in six Australians is affected by hearing loss and recent studies have predicted that over 700 million people worldwide will suffer from hearing impairment by 2015.

'To address a clear need, the broadcast industry began running captions on regular video programming in the early 1970s. Today, closed captions on video are more prevalent than ever. But generating captions today can be a time-consuming and complicated process.  

'Making video easily accessible is something YouTube is working hard to address. One of the first steps the YouTube team took was the development of a caption feature in 2008. In November of last year the YouTube released auto-captioning for a small, select group of partners.

'Auto-captioning combines some of the speech-to-text algorithms found in Google's Voice Search to automatically generate video captions when requested by a viewer. The video owner can also download the auto-generated captions, improve them, and upload the new version. Viewers will have the ability to choose an option to translate those captions into any one of 50 different languages -- all in just a couple of clicks.'

There's plenty more detail on YouTube's new automagic captioning service, including details on where it will - and won't - work. Please read on to page 2!

Youtube offers more detail on its stunning new auto-capitioning service:

'There will even be a "request processing" button for un-captioned videos that any video owner can click on if they want to speed up the availability of auto-captions. It will take some time to process all the available video, so here are some things to keep in mind:

'While YouTube plans to broaden the feature to include more languages in the months to come, currently, auto-captioning is only for videos where English is spoken.

'Just like any speech recognition application, auto-captions require a clearly spoken audio track. Videos with background noise or a muffled voice can't be auto-captioned. President Obama's speech on the recent Chilean Earthquake is a good example of the kind of audio that works for auto-captions.

'Auto-captions aren't perfect and just like any other transcription, the owner of the video needs to check to make sure they're accurate. In other cases, the audio file may not be good enough to generate auto-captions. But please be patient -- YouTube speech recognition technology gets better every day. 

'Auto-captions should be available to everyone who's interested in using them. The YouTube team is also working to provide auto-captions for all past user uploads that fit the above mentioned requirements. If you're having trouble enabling them for your video, please visit the Help Centre here.

'For content owners, the power of auto-captioning is significant. With just a few quick clicks your videos can be accessed by a whole new global audience. And captions can make it easier for users to discover content on YouTube.

'Twenty hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Making some of these videos more accessible to people who have hearing disabilities or who speak different languages, not only represents a significant advancement in the democratization of information, it can also help foster greater collaboration and understanding.'

Thus ends YouTube's announcement, clearly promising more advances to come, an ever improving auto-captioning service, and auto-captioning for languages other than English.

Who knows what's next when it comes to technology'¦ Perhaps those videos with background or muffled noises will benefit from some future YouTube lip-reading algorithmic magic, or is that an algorithm too far? When it comes to Google... probably not!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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