See Inside April 2011

Solving the Cocktail Party Problem

Computers have great trouble deciphering voices that are speaking simultaneously. That may soon change

Illustration by Bryan Christie

You are at a party, and Alex is telling a boring story. You are much more interested in the gossip that Sam is recounting to Pat, so you tune out Alex and focus on Sam’s words. Congratulations: you have just demonstrated the human ability to solve the “cocktail party problem”—to pick out one thread of speech from the babble of two or more people. Computers so far lack that power.

Although automated speech recognition is increasingly routine, it fails when faced with two people talking at once. Computerized speech separation would not only improve speech-recognition systems, it could also advance many other endeavors that require the separating of signals, such as making sense of brain-scan images.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article