Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Speech-driven Programming: Are We Prepared? Part 2

image from

As mentioned in part 1, with most speech recognition infrastructure being built on the concept of natural language, which is intended to communicate ideas, is it possible to grow speech recognition methods beyond anything more than simple dictation?

One of the important features that is desired within Eleuthera is the ability for users to be able to make their own phonetic choices.  One person may be perfectly fine with saying "less than symbol" to get the output "<", while yet someone else may seek to make a simple chirp to get a similar result.  While this function is all well and good, for me, this makes one very large assumption. That Eleuthera should continue the current industry method of programming; character by character text manipulation.

Natural Language vs. Programming Language.

As programming languages have evolved over the decades, it has come closer and closer to sounding like natural spoken language, except for its very heavy usage of symbols and shorthand words.  For example, JavaScript is considered a 4th generation programming language and a simple code sample looks something like this:

var name = "Bob";
if(name != "Bob"){
alert("Your name is not Bob");
alert("Your name is Bob");

The above example could be easily spoken out in natural language like so; "variable 'name' equals Bob, if name is not equal to Bob alert user 'your name is not Bob' else alert user 'your name is Bob'."  Under the current speech recognition paradigm, which is established upon the concept of assuming natural language or communicating with humans, coding simple programs like that above could be possible.

However, in a world driven by productivity, the amount of extra "speech" would take up more time to say then it would to type, given that most modern text editors incorporate auto completion/expanders like Zen coding (Emmet).  Likewise, more complex coding would be extremely difficult using this natural form because it removes the granularity of editing individual characters.  To convert the above function from anonymous auto-executing, as it is now, to one with its own identifier, I would need the ability to navigate/speak individual characters.  Speech systems like Google's voice API do not take this into consideration, speaking something like "A B C" is checked against a natural language library and tries to assess your intention, resulting in a possible "a bee sea" as a result.  The current system assumes your intentions and returns what it "thinks" you were trying to say in relation to natural language not computer language.

These are my current thoughts, if we are to seek true progress in the area of speech-driven programming, then we cannot try to force programming language to check against natural language dictionaries like Google and Apple currently do, nor can we force natural language into a programmatic paradigm.  Opening up how programmers speak their code to personal preference sounds like I'm advocating for complete anarchy and removal of standards, but if the results output conform to industry standards, does it matter how it is being "typed or spoken"?

As it stands, my plan is to maintain as close to granular control as most programmers have been used to do text editing as possible, though this may mean quite a lot of trial and error when defining which words fit within the "Goldilocks zone"; big enough to be a real word, but small enough to be productive.

Should speech programming focus more on the sum of the object's parts, rather than maintaining character by character dictation?  For example, saying "function" would automatically produce the semantically correct code "(function(){});" and thus making it very software dependent, or should semantic control reside with the speaking user?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Speech - driven Programming: Are We Prepared? Part 1

Speech driven apps have been the single biggest craze since Apple introduced Siri in 2010, giving voice recognition much-needed spotlight.  For the last decade speech recognition has been locked down to proprietary OS-based devices and largely confined to voice dictation.  The flexibility of controlling a device through voice commands has been paraded in Hollywood blockbusters for years, but with speech recognition becoming mobile, we are finally questioning its limits.  With most speech recognition infrastructure being built on language intended to communicate ideas, is it possible to grow speech recognition beyond anything more than simple dictation?

Eleuthera: Speech Driven Programming Application.

In 2012, I was afforded the opportunity to participate in Google Summer of Code with an amazing group of people at the Inclusive Design Institute (IDI).  Still in school, a disability beginning to affect the joints in my hands, and with no real programming experience outside of the classroom, I opted to take on the most challenging concept of all, to try and develop an application that would allow individuals to program using the voice on any mobile device purely using JavaScript. 

No one else had even applied for the position at that time, nor has there been much research (that I'm aware of) been done on it since.  I jumped straight in with what I called Eleuthera (freedom from chains),  and quickly found myself drowning in all of the complexities involved in the project.  Unfortunately, the project never really got off the ground because Google's open source speech API was still within its infancy, and microphone access still relied on Flash.  Two years later, however, the landscape has changed and has breathed new life into Eleuthera.  Over the next couple of months, I hope to continue to release posts about my encounters as a disabled programmer designing an application with the potential to aid other disabled programmers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Superheroes Need Disabilities

Found Image at
Spent a good part of the day watching YouTube videos of people participating in cosplay at all the different nerdy conventions; i.e. Dragoncon, Comicon, Animecon, etc. and was a little surprised at my lack of surprise that there were very little in the way of disabled comic superheroes or anime characters.  We have Prof. Xavier and Daredevil, but is that the best we can come up with?

A Handful of Cosplay

One of the reasons I got so caught up into watching the different YouTube videos is because A) I am a nerd and I love everything sci-fi as I'm sure you already know, and B) I have been really wanting to participate in the hugely popular cosplay.  However, I am interested in keeping true to the characters back story, I'm not into trying to be a person in a wheelchair trying to portray a character who normally walks.  As strange as that may sound, and somewhat defeatist, I see it as an acceptance of reality and who I am, better to be true then lie to myself.

With the great advancement in technology, and a seemingly perfect origin story for a great superhero, you would think there would be more opportunities to tap into a more gritty, dark, and yet real story for a comic or graphic novel.  By great advancement in technology I mean the concept of advanced technology we can think of in the realm of storytelling.  Imagine we have a Ironman in a chair, who gets in a fight with a villain and is getting his butt kicked.  The villain knocks the hero out of his chair, the source of most of his technological advantage.  As the hero, scraped and bloodied, slowly clawing his way, grunting excruciatingly back to his chair while the villain cackles behind him… Now see, you're in anticipation, waiting for what happened to the hero aren't you?  Admittedly, I am not as much into the graphic novel scene as I should be to make any real judgment on the state of disabilities within comics or graphic novels, but I have not seen anything like that before.

There Have Been Some.

You look at Batman, a billionaire with a dark origin, leading to a lot of money to spend, time, and no superpowers.  We have a man's parents slaughtered in front of him as a child, who grows up to use technology to fight crime and clean up the streets of Gotham city.  Switch out a healthy individual with someone who has lost the ability to walk, deepening the plot, and you have yourself a interesting and quite compelling superhero.  Professor Xavier gets pretty close, but is somewhat assisted with his telekinesis abilities.

Back in February, 2013, there was a story issued by CNN that talked about a hearing-impaired boy who got a superhero created for him.  But I guess for me I'm hoping for something on the lines of Daredevil.  With its dark and gritty realism, in the form of a wheelchair for not only comic or graphic novels, but also in anime.  I am not much of an artist, and I'm barely a writer, but maybe one day I could create something.  If any of you know of anything like this, be sure to comment down below.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Internet Killed Sunil Tripathi

Was the government's mishandling of the Afghanistan/Iraq war, and the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden one of the reasons for the witchhunt leading to the death of the university student?

After the US was rocked by another terrorist attack in the Boston Marathon bombing, claiming the lives of three innocent people and wounding dozens more,  it seems we have yet another date that will remain infamous, surrounded by pain and tears in the heart of Americans for generations to come.  We will also remember how those days have continued to unite and bring each of us closer together as citizens of this great country.  But just as in the days of 9/11, where we suffered in communal sorrow; we sought retribution for those affected by the singeing shrapnel delivered by the bombers.

Terror From Within

This time there was no country to invade, no massing of the troops, or sending of the hounds.  There was just the search to find who was responsible, and within a few days we had our targets.  In the past there was little citizens could do to help bring about justice, but sit back and hope the government could get the job done.  Over 10 years later, after billions of dollars were spent, thousands of lives lost, the man responsible for 9/11 received his due diligence with a bullet.  Even though the job had been done, it wasn't without a severe hit to the government's satisfaction rating.

This time the terror was domestic, so this time the terrorists were going to feel the full power of domestic justice.  With the FBI utilizing every bit of its manpower and resources, we quickly got images of our targets.  In a country that abides by the rule of Law, laid down as the country's foundation to protect its citizens from illegal search and seizure, and to receive proper due process, certain procedures are necessary.  The Internet however, not hindered by such protections and formalities, felt Law was taking too long and sought to expedite justice.  Not long after the images were released did The Internet have a name; Sunil Tripathi.  Though the FBI quickly dismissed him and were after the Tsarnaev brothers, it seemed The Internet was out for blood, and days later Sunil's body was found by police, floating in a river.

Here we are now nearly a month later, with the brothers caught, and the events surrounding the marathon explained, but little mentioned about Sunil Tripathi.  I have to ask, does anyone care about The Internet's possible role as his judge, jury, and executioner, and the severe lack of media coverage?  I realize from the start that the events around Sunil's disappearance is controversial because of his history with extreme depression, which could reasonably be concluded that his death was possibly by suicide.  At this point for me, and the reason for this article, I more concerned with the Internet's role as becoming "the rule of the mob" rather than "the rule of Law" when it comes to bringing about justice.

The Nature of the Internet

The Internet offers us supreme freedom of speech, of religion, and is naturally democratic when it comes to people's voice in how things are run.  It is essentially and optimally "self-governing" when it comes to commerce and ensuring people are able to execute these rights.  A single tweet or Facebook status can spark an entire group of people to devote countless hours to a particular cause, shining as an example the ease of compassion the Internet provides.  This is why much of the Western world have sought to pass international laws protecting the it from any and all governmental control, at least not beyond that which is reasonable.

However, the Internet also provides us with ultimate anonymity, endless sources of stimulation, setting free our deepest inclinations.  One would have to look no further than the nearest YouTube comment to see the lowest point of human depravity.  It seemingly gives us an environment of duality, democracy and anarchy, empathy and demoralization.  A trivial post can set Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media service ablaze with messages of hate and cries calling for apologies or even their job, all before the full information about the events surrounding the given post come out.  Leading things to become quite uncontrollable very quickly, making mainstream media (and society for that matter) schizophrenic, seeing problems where there is none, pulling the trigger before it's time, and pointing fingers and calling for innocent people's heads.

This is the entire reason why we created a police force in the first place, to let an objective group of paid professionals, who are trained to see the entire picture, weeding out fact from fiction, find the true criminals, and execute the lawful justice that we built this country on.  Hopefully, in the days coming we find out the truth about Sunil Tripathi, but until then we set him as an example of what can happen when justice is overshadowed by a witchhunt.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rising Cost of Tuition

The Internet has broken the chains of information, and is redefining what is valuable.  Could this be a cause for the rising cost of tuition, is knowledge no longer the commodity?

Photo courtesy of the University of Cincinnati.

Flipping through the channels to find some sort of white noise to fill in the silence while studying for my PSY320 class, I came across a discussion on CNN about the rising cost of tuition.  It was suggested that there was some direct correlation between the fall of students and the rise of tuition, that the following number of applicants was because of the rising tuition.  My first gut reaction was "duh", but as I got to thinking a little more about it, I found myself feeling that their direct correlation was actually kind of a shortsighted.  As the saying goes, we have a tendency of being unable to see the forest through the trees.  Many times we want to make singular conclusions, and have a hard time believing that multiple external factors can lead to such outcomes.

The Barrier of Knowledge

For many centuries only a lucky few were privileged enough to be given the gift of education and writing, and subsequently were allowed access to the handful of large institutions that not only housed these wonderful writings - like the library of Alexandria - but also the minds of the elite thinkers.  This way of life gave rise to an elitist mindset that only a few were superior enough to handle and had the capacity to achieve a higher level of knowledge.  For example, Plato believed that Socrates in his writing of The Republic felt that women should be educated equally with men but were unable to utilize this knowledge to the extent men could.  We see an attempt in the 15th century to try to break this barrier to knowledge by miniaturizing these large libraries into small transportable books that can be more easily shared.  With more books came more places to find them; public libraries, state colleges, even religious institutions, but no matter how hard even developed societies tried, the "best" and latest continued to be locked away behind the wall of monetary prestige. Social changes towards civil entitlements and the role of education within civil rights and liberties have tried for several decades now to establish some sort of balance within the US, allowing access to knowledge to those less privileged, and hopefully giving us the intellectual "step up" early on in life.

Information is Freed

Then comes this thing called the "Internet" that will set us free from geographical and monetary barriers by granting access to the collective knowledge of the entire world.  While it has been an icon of almost salvific proportions, it has also upset some of the most established markets.  Our question now is how much is the Internet affecting the educational system, as it pertains to the proliferation of information, not only for colleges and universities, but for K-12.

For so long now we have been used to the idea that going to college or university was the way to securing our future or having access to those higher forms of information, by telling us all about those careers we wanted to do since we were children.  Recent economic recessions have not only cut back the government funding towards college and K-12 programs, reducing the number of students able to apply, but also increased the level of unemployment, cutting again the number of students able to go to school.  What's more, schools raise tuition and other fees, again reducing even further position availability.  From here it seems like we're already stuck in an endless loop of rising tides and sinking ships.  Fear of a classist system began permeating once again the thoughts of political arts major's alike.  In hopes to curb this "threat", State universities like Stanford and Harvard (among others) have begun participating in joint ventures to make lectures and curriculum free to the public, known as Open Educational Resources (OER).  However, does this solve the initial problem?  Schools must be more than just places to be fed a bunch of facts, right?

Internet Adding to the Cost?

This question seems to be in the minds of those ages 15 - 29 right now, of those buried under years of debt only to find themselves unemployed, and those youngsters outside looking in observing what is happening to the generation ahead of them.  "Why go to school when all the facts I need to know are freely available online?"  It would seem then that institutions participating in OER are shooting themselves in the foot by making source material and lectures available without the need of even stepping foot in a classroom.

I am all too familiar with a career that does not necessarily require any sort of formal college education to be successful.  There are hundreds of websites that tell you all you need to know about the different languages used to program, how to program with them, ways of being more productive, etc. to the point of becoming overwhelming.  The Internet has become a great place to find what you need to know, but not what to do with it.  It does not put it in order for you, and it does not verify reliability.  Information is no longer the commodity of value, educational institutions are going to need to begin making the expertise and experience of their professors the object worth the cost.  Professors didn't spend 8 to 12 years and rack up $100,000 in debt just to be fed a bunch of facts about a certain field they were interested in, only to regurgitate all the information to the next generation of students, though that is what we are beginning to see quite frequently in the K-12 schools.

Time for Change

The Internet has broken the chains of information, and is redefining what is valuable.  As the playing field begins to change, institutions and teachers are going to need to find what the new market finds as a commodity and what is not,  if they want to be able to continue affecting future generations.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When It Began

I know every time I do one of these things that I am always apologizing for one reason or another for taking such a long time before posting new content.  It is something that I'm actively trying to change.  It seems as time has gone by and I have spent more and more time on a computer studying, I have acquired a strong case of ADD, that or a lack of motivation.  Let's leave that topic for a future post, suffice it to say that it's something I seriously need to break.

For this post though, I wanted to introduce myself a little bit (but not too much).  I have a rare condition called MPS, which greatly impacts physical development from an early age, and I have said this many times before, I feel that because my condition severely impacted my physical abilities, the only thing I had left was my mind and something that I would be hard-pressed to lose.  So at the surprise of many individuals I find myself on my free time reading literary articles from philosophy professors and other works from some of the greatest minds ever to exist; Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, etc.  The obvious outcome of a mind that continuously loves to think about the esoteric, and a learned inability to concentrate on something for longer than 30 min, the sheer number of topics that I think about on any given day is quite staggering.  Which is part and parcel to the reason I wanted to make this, and hopefully make a routine of it,  to get some of my thoughts out.  In turn hoping that this expulsion of my inward thoughts would help me work through some of my thoughts, and even spark some dialogue with other interested individuals.  I'm not claiming in any way that I could be the next brilliant philosopher with another groundbreaking shift to our social understanding and modern thought, but one can pretend.

You can also on top of the logical brain teasers expect to see theological questions, developments on stories based on my religious beliefs, updates on what's going on in my life, and even apparel that I have designed.  So here is to keeping you entertained.