Babies can cry because they’re sick or in pain, but sometimes — okay, a lot of the time — they cry because they’re hungry, cranky, or just feel like stretching their developing vocal cords.
Now, researchers from Northern Illinois University have found a way to use artificial intelligence to decipher between the two types of vocalizations — and not only could the AI save new parents from a lot of unnecessary worry, it could also save sick babies’ lives.
In a study published in IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica, the researchers detail how they designed an algorithm based on automatic speech recognition technology that could distinguish between “normal” and “abnormal” cries, the latter being the kind often caused by a medical problem.
They gathered their training data for the algorithm from 26 infants in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Then they asked experienced nurses and caregivers to parse the probable reason for each cry — “hungry,” “diaper,” “attention,” “sleepy,” or “discomfort” — with the first four reasons considered “normal” and the fifth “abnormal.”
By looking for patterns in the audio of the various types of babies’ cries, the researchers were able to create an AI that can listen to any infant — not just a specific one — and determine the likely reason for its cries.
The hope is that this tool could one day provide new parents or caregivers with the same “ear” for infant language that experts possess — letting them know when a baby is actually in distress and when it’s just, well, being a baby.
READ MORE: Fussy, hungry, or even in pain? Scientists create an AI tool to tell babies’ cries apart [EurekAlert]
More on speech recognition: Amazon’s Alexa Could Soon Translate Speech in Real-Time