Startup Showcases Sign Language Based Artificial Intelligence at SXSW

No credentials needed for “AI for good” and coffee at Fairmont Hotel

This week Austinites and visitors alike have the opportunity to interact face-to-face (so to speak) with an AI program that understands American Sign Language.

Following on-screen prompts to sign series of single letters, users can order a customized coffee as the computer (a modest but powerful laptop on an adjacent pedestal) registers the letters faster than one can blink.

Created by Stradigi AI, an artificial intelligence research and solutions company based in Montreal, the program is the result of a companywide contest to come up with an original philanthropic project in keeping with the “AI for good” research movement. Stradigi’s AI platform is customized in-house to suit the needs of a large variety of clients, both private and government, but the company wants to contribute in big ways to the advancement of AI that impacts culture and communication as well.

The ASL Alphabet Game, which teaches users ASL by utilizing computer vision, premiered at the NeurIPS 2018 conference in Montreal (“the Super Bowl of AI”, according to Hugo Thibault, VP of Marketing). The game was developed with the input of 4,000-5,000 images (each from a distinct individual) per alphabet letter in order to eliminate bias, resulting in a high level of recognition no matter the appearance of the user – even children are able to learn from the game, and have a ball engaging with it, says Thibault.

Due to the large amount of computing power needed to run such programs, small-scale or wearable technology for individuals is out of reach for now. However, Stradigi met with the Texas School for the Deaf this week to advance the program. Phil Mitsopoulos, head of Partnerships, and Bobby Prevost, research scientist, explained how students at TSD will provide valuable data to the program when they interact with it, in essence teaching the program a more complete ASL vocabulary (and maybe even the entire lexicon someday).

They also explained how the Stradigi team hopes for a widened application of this program in the future, given its two-way communication capability, envisioning interfaces in public places that provide real-time translation between hearing and deaf people. According to Mitsopoulos, this project is indicative of how AI is “going to augment our capabilities instead of waste them,” a nod to the fear that some people hold when it comes to trusting computers to take on more important roles in commerce and society at large.

The Stradigi team will be on the fifth floor of the Fairmont Hotel through Thursday, March 14, eager to discuss current and future applications of AI technology across all sectors – including professional sports and legislation, to this layperson’s surprise – data security, and what it means to be a socially responsible business while wielding powerful technology.

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SXSW 2019, coffee, Fairmont Hotel

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