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For Relief, Press Four

by Rick Keir

Shri Narayanan, associate professor of electrical engineering.

“Say or press ‘1’ if you want . . .”

Frustrated trying to navigate through the instructions you get from those recorded phone answering systems?

Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Integrated Media Systems Center are trying to help.

The researchers are developing a new software program that will recognize frustration in your voice – then take action to help, such as providing a soothing computer response or immediately transferring the call to a human operator.

The system distinguishes irritated speech from normal speech with 85 percent accuracy, according to Shri Narayanan, associate professor of electrical engineering, computer science and linguistics.

Narayanan said that companies could his system to ensure that callers do not hang up out of frustration. A commercially viable system could be available in about two years, he said, as researchers continue to improve accuracy and add response capabilities.

The system identifies frustration from such features as pitch, energy, duration of speech sounds, word content and contextual information.

The team used some 1,400 real calls recorded by a call center to “teach” the system to recognize frustration.

“The underlying voice recognition technology we are developing for this application will be useful in many other areas, including automated training, education and games,” Narayanan said.

The project has received extensive media coverage. Narayanan discussed the system on “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC in February.

For Relief, Press Four

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