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A Search Engine That Listens


The Internet may not be making you smarter, but it may be getting smarter about you. Recent breakthroughs in speech-recognition technology point toward a future where Web crawlers recognize more of the words you speak. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis have developed a type of search engine that works for spoken words in television broadcasts. The program is also able to differentiate between speakers and scan thousands of hours of broadcasts in just a few milliseconds, the researchers assert.

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									                                                                                                        COURTESY OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY

Cultural Preservation

Saving a Tribal
Cultural knowledge may disappear with
dwindling native populations.

   When languages disappear, so do oral
histories and cultural knowledge. As mi-
nority indigenous cultures face rapidly
dwindling populations, the future of their
heritage grows dark.
   In America’s northern Plains, the Assini-
boine tribe has shrunk to just 50 living
members in Montana who are fluent in its        hunters without benefit of horses. Unlike               Assiniboine native
language, Nakota. The Assiniboine sepa-         other Plains tribes, the Assiniboine relied             Bertha O’Watch
                                                                                                        (left), one of 50 re­
rated from the Sioux some 400 years ago,        on pre-horse hunting techniques, such as
                                                                                                        maining fluent
developing its own linguistic and cultural      communal buffalo drives. Knowledge                      speakers of the
forms, according to Raymond DeMallie, an        about their unique survival strategies could            tribe’s Nakota lan­
Indiana University anthropology professor.      thus be preserved in the oral histories and             guage, offers her
   DeMallie is leading a project to preserve    stories collected.                                      stories to linguistic
the oral history of the tribe, with plans to                                                            anthropologist
publish a dictionary of the language and        Source: Indiana University,            Linda Cumberland, a
two volumes transcribing oral histories            See also a comparison of vocabulary words in the     member of the Indi­
that were recorded nearly 25 years ago.         Siouan language family at     ana University
   The Assiniboine tribe had long been ne-      famsio_words.htm.                                       American Indian
                                                                                                        Studies Research In­
glected by linguists and anthropologists
                                                                                                        stitute team.
because it was believed to have been
closely related to the Sioux; it was also in-
correctly identified with the Stoneys of        Information Technology
Canada, according to DeMallie. This mis-
taken identity led to neglect by scholars
pursuing the larger and better known in-        A Search Engine
digenous cultures.
   Armed with new digital audio technolo-       That Listens
gies that can visually represent sounds for
precise analysis, DeMallie and his team         Breakthrough in computer speech-recognition.
will be able to replay difficult passages of
the recorded material, consult with other         The Internet may not be making us
experts, and render more accurate transla-      smarter, but it may be getting smarter
tions.                                          about us. Recent breakthroughs in speech-
   The Assiniboine traveled farther north       recognition technology point toward a
than did the Sioux, and the culture was         future where Web crawlers recognize more
greatly influenced through intermarriage        of the words we speak.
with the Cree tribe and with French and           Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute
Canadian fur traders, DeMallie explains.        for Intelligent Analysis have developed a
The oral culture is rich with stories incor-    type of search engine that works for spo-
porating European folktales.                    ken words in television broadcasts. Other
   But of particular importance to cultural     similar speech-recognition programs at-
anthropologists is the effect of one of the     tempt to match what the system hears to
tribe’s key distinctions: They survived as      words stored in a digital database. The

                                                                 THE FUTURIST        January-February 2010            9
protein in the human diet,
and they are rich in fiber
and polyphenols.
                                         World Trends & Forecasts
   The researchers stud-
ied six wild species of lu-
pins, focusing on their                                                                                                       
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