First, let me explain what the Starling “does.” Place the Starling near your baby and start talking. In real-time, the Starling processes the audio signals from your verbal engagements, turning them into data that will tell you just how many words your baby is being exposed to. Of course, the actual process is much more complex.
Ready for a deeper dive? I’m one of the data scientists who helped pioneer the digital smarts that make the Starling count words. And while counting words sounds as easy as speaking them, it’s not. Imagine a page of text in a book. That’s the written form of how we talk, right? Well, sort of. Spoken speech is much less well defined when it’s viewed in its true form – sound waves. For example, here’s what the spoken phrase, “middle of the night” look like as sound waves…A sound wave is made of one continuous line that tracks speech. Get it? It’s wavy. The high parts tell you how loud the sound is, and the low parts show how quiet it is. Given this info, I bet you’d be surprised to see where the actual words appear in the waveform.
See? The sounds all sort of blend together. This is why turning waveforms into words to count (even when you know the words you’re looking for) is so hard. But wait – it gets even harder.
Take that fancy digital audio assistant on your smart phone. When you push a button to ask it directions, it’s not processing all your words when you speak them. It’s cheating by just listening for hints of words (called phonemes) and sending them to a gigantic server farm for processing. The Starling doesn’t do that. Without making you push a button before speaking, without recording your interactions, and without needing to be constantly connected to Wi-Fi, the Starling uses sophisticated, proprietary algorithms to pull your words out of the waves, filter them for proximity, remove background noise, calibrate itself to accommodate loud talkers and whisperers, and deliver a word count to your smart phone. All in real-time.
So now you have an idea of how powerfully bright our little star truly is. And if someone says, “that’s a lot of trouble just to count words,” you can gently correct them. “It’s not just counting words. It’s helping me give my child the best future possible.”