Google Slides now auto-transcribes verbal displays for real-time captions

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A recent internal hackathon at Google has resulted in a new captioning feature for its G Suite presentation app, Slides.

The creation of Google software engineers Laura D’Aquila and Abigail Klein, the feature uses a computer’s built-in microphone to transcribe the words of a speaker in real time, displaying them for all to see.

While especially useful for the deaf or hard of hearing, the feature should also work well for some audience members whose first language is different from that of the speaker, or when the speaker isn’t projecting their voice sufficiently.

Using the Chrome browser on desktop or laptop, the automated closed captions can be enabled simply by clicking on the CC button in the navigation box in Slides. As you begin to speak, your words will then appear at the bottom of the display for all of the audience members to see.

Automated closed captions for Slides is being rolled out gradually this week, though at the current time it only works with U.S. English. The team is hoping to expand the feature to more countries and languages over time.

In a post on Monday, October 8 announcing the new feature, D’Aquila and Klein point out that the captions are powered by machine learning and “heavily influenced by the speaker’s accent, voice modulation, and intonation,” adding that work is ongoing to improve the quality of the captions.

D’Aquila, herself hard of hearing, and Klein said work on the feature “has moved from a passion project to our full-time job,”

“The fact that the feature was built primarily for accessibility purposes but is also helpful to all users shows the overall value for everyone of incorporating accessibility into product design,” Google’s software engineers said in the post.

They continued: “We really got into this work for its potential to improve the lives of people with disabilities, for the interesting technologies and design constraints, and because of our desire to use our skills to make the world a better place. We’re excited to contribute to that effort with closed captions in Google Slides, and we’re eager to share it with you.”

The feature is certainly a great addition to Slides, though its accuracy and ability to understand a range of accents will of course be key to its success.

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