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【Cubic Zine Issue 20】From Speech Recognition Scholar to Cantonese and Communication Specialist: Tan Lee navigates across research disciplines

Where Ideas Root and Flourish

The fifth wave of Covid-19 in Hong Kong has put most of us in stay-home mode for months. Instead of wishing for full resumption of working in office in person, the need for creating immersive virtual workspace for staff is in demand. The cover story of this issue of Cubic Zine, Prof Tan Lee, an expert in AI and speech technology, propounds that solutions brought by technologies needs to be balanced against its social benefits, and that the target audience will use them.

In this issue: #SpeechTechnologyResearch #UniversalSpeechTranslator #CaringAntiEpidemicMeasures #CantoneseSpeechRecognition #SpeechToText #Phonograph


Scholarly Outreach → GLOCAL

From Speech Recognition Scholar to Cantonese and Communication Specialist: Tan Lee navigates across research disciplines

Prof. Tan Lee , Department of Electronic Engineering, CUHK (ORKTS)

“Long-serving academic staff are sometimes so absorbed in their own lectures and tend to talk non-stop. I often remind myself not to do so, albeit rather unsuccessfully.”

Prof. Tan Lee’s text message before the interview seemed to imply that it would be a lengthy conversation. It turned out to be a very lively 2-hour chat, during which he shared and explicated his experience as the vice-leader of CUHK Choir as a student, on researches and interdisciplinary and knowledge transfer projects, as well as designing a “phonograph”for a patient with laryngeal cancer recently.

Why does he persist in researching Cantonese speech recognition? That CUHK had once the world’s largest Cantonese speech database? Why did he attend a special meeting on “function words”?

Read the full interview

【Scholarly keyword】Speech technology research


“It’s relatively more difficult to get research in speech technology published or reviewed since this milieu is quite small. There are generally a lot of researchers on digital imaging and virtual technology in each institute, but much less on speech. The ratio of research efforts in speech to image is 1 to 10. There are only a handful of speech technology researchers in Hong Kong.” The reason, Lee Tan observes, is that it’s difficult to tell the difference.

In 1990s this was a stumbling block to even the most outstanding researchers to be tenured. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They became top management in Microsoft and Apple.” Contrary to the knock-backs in the university, speech engineers are very much sought after by technology companies. “Alibaba can easily hire a hundred of them at one go.”


Business 2.0 → FORCE FOR GOOD

Universal Speech Translator | USA


Meta, the new name of the Facebook business empire, is making strides towards the immersive virtual environment “metaverse”. In February 2022 it announced that it is working on artificial intelligence (AI) research to generate worlds through speech, humanise voice assistants (such that it will remind you that “salt has already been added to the pot” while you are cooking), and translate between all languages.

The powerful universal speech translation allegedly would include even the least spoken tongues, for example those of indigenous peoples, so that they can be translated into any languages. Reports have pointed out that there is yet a timeframe for accomplishing these projects, and implications from outside the speech technology itself have to be scrupulously dealt with. Speech recognition specialist Tan Lee reckons there is nothing novel about these researches. The big question lies in whether it can apply in daily life and bring social benefits.

Caring Anti-epidemic Measures | Hong Kong


In the light of the worsening of the epidemic, a number of property developers promptly organised relieve initiatives such as cash donations, rapid antigen test kits, food and so on. Hotels offered rooms for quarantine and shopping malls waived rents for tenants who had reluctantly suspended their business. New World Development, which advocates the corporate vision of “creating shared value”, took a step further to deliver much needed caring measures — heaters for patients waiting in the outdoors in the coldest days in February.

It was reportedt hat the heaters were transferred from the group’s hotels, and the swift response was applauded by netizens. The group is no novice in innovative anti-epidemic tacks. When the city faced severe shortage of face masks at the beginning of the epidemic, the group set up a number of production lines and has donated 10 million face masks to date.


Seeking funding for your social enterprise?

Prof Tan Lee and his team were awarded the CUHK Knowledge Transfer Project Fund (KPF) to launch the personalised children’s story platform. The Sustainable Knowledge Transfer Project Fund (S-KPF) supports the incubation of social enterprise. Both funds assist CUHK scholars to transform social innovation ideas into community projects or even social enterprises. Selected projects will be awarded a maximum of HK$400,000 (KPF) and HK$600,000 (S-KPF) respectively.

Results of 2022 announced!

The variegated awarded projects this year involvesustainable farming, children’s physical literacy, peace education, rural regeneration, dysphonia screening for teachers and a number of healthcare and medicine-related initiatives. The complete list will be available on ORTKS webpage soon!

If you wish to bring your research out of academia to maximise its social benefits, or call forth social innovation in the community and even start a social enterprise, contact us anytime.

Be prepared for the next round of funding!

Get to know the success stories of 4 professors and their 4 social enterprises
Apply for KPF
Apply for S-KPF


ORTKS organises “knowledge transfer” events such as sharing and seminar on social and technological innovation throughout the year.

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