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Message for students 2020: Ling Guo

February 14, 2020

Making voice recognition technology practical

Ling Guo
Biometrics Research Laboratories

After earning her degree in mathematics at a Chinese university, Guo came to Japan to study speech recognition. She joined NEC in 2017 after completing her PhD. Guo’s hobbies include the Chinese zither which she learned to play during her childhood and she’s lately been trying to learn how to play the Japanese variant, the koto.

Doing research on world-class voice recognition technology

I’m currently involved in doing research on voice recognition technology. NEC has many of the world’s most advanced biometric authentication technologies such as face recognition and iris recognition. Voice recognition is also one such technology and the technology’s capabilities have been proven through the SRE (Speaker Recognition Evaluation), a benchmark test run by America’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I’ve been involved in the research and development to prepare for the SRE in 2018 and 2019, two years in a row.
Voice recognition is technology that is expected to see widespread use in society going into the future. NEC has already been applying this technology for a while to combat telephone scams, but I believe that it’s also going to become important for smart speakers. I’m guessing that most families that own a smart speaker only have one and share it. When dad says, “Tell me my schedule,” but the speaker gives mom’s schedule, it could lead to things becoming ugly, right (laughter)? And that’s why the ability of voice recognition technology to accurately identify the speaker is probably going to become even more important.

Having broad interests and making technology have practical applications

I used to research speech recognition when I was a student, but that’s changed to speaker recognition, so the kind of research I do has changed slightly. The reason why I became interested in speech recognition is because of a certain movie scene. In it, the protagonists are trying to escape using a car, but they can’t start the engine because they don’t have the keys. However, it turns out that the car has a speech recognition system, so it starts running when they say, “Engine start.” When I saw that scene, I fell in love. I wanted to work on technology like that and that’s why I came to a university in Japan that was researching speech recognition.
And that’s also why I have a desire to have my research turn into things that can actually be useful to society. To me, it’s more fun to find practical applications for my research than it is to devote myself to the pursuit of any one theme. I really like how I can do that here at NEC. Starting this year, I’ve been working to improve my knowledge of business with the goal of commercialization in mind. I’m hoping to eventually become the kind of researcher that can evaluate the applications of the research I’m doing and to be able to make suggestions to business units about ways to utilize my research.
That’s why it’s important to have broad interests. For example, I studied speech recognition in university, but I wasn’t that interested in speaker recognition and didn’t even bother attending academic conferences as a result. Nowadays, I do attend a variety of conferences because I believe that having a basic understanding of other technologies, such as ultrasound, will help me come up with new ideas. It’s important to be interested and knowledgeable about a wide array of things and to network with researchers in various fields when it comes to doing research.

Laboratories filled with diversity and freedom

NEC laboratories are really diverse. I currently belong to a team of eight researchers and three of them are from overseas. Other than me, there’s another Chinese researcher who’s been at the company longer than me and there’s also a Singaporean researcher. The regular meetings which includes the Japanese researchers are all held in English, so I don’t think language will be a problem for people from overseas. Even if you’re worried about your English, it’ll be all right. I’d actually forgotten most of my English by the time I joined the company (laughter). Despite that, I found myself able to speak more and more English as I continued hearing it get spoken at the laboratories. The company also holds English conversation and Japanese seminars as well, so there’s nothing to be worried about. Another unique feature is the large number of women. When most people think about female researchers in fields related to information technology, I’m guessing people think women are scarce. It was actually the case at my university with something like maybe two women in a group of 50. However, there are a lot of talented female researchers at NEC.
Another nice thing is how the lab respects the freedom and will of its researchers. Here at the Biometrics Research Laboratories, there’s something called the “20% Rule*1.” The rule states that you have the freedom to do whatever research you want as long as it doesn’t go over 20% of your work hours. I’m taking advantage of this policy to learn about face recognition technology from researchers on the face recognition team who are sitting right next to me.
We’re even encouraged to take part in academic conferences and research programs. Last year, I attended a research program hosted by Johns Hopkins University. The experience of doing research together with the world’s leading researchers was really stimulating.
NEC’s laboratories are filled with opportunity and freedom.

  • *1
    Depending on the laboratories, this value can be between 15 and 20%.

A day at work

Message to my past self in my school days

 If you really want to be a researcher, get along with professors at academic conferences!
If you really want to be a researcher, get along with professors at academic conferences!