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"Sound Mined" -- The Discovery Files

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Audio engineers have developed a novel artificial intelligence system for understanding and indexing sound, a unique tool for both finding and matching previously un-labeled audio files.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Teaching Computers to Listen.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Engineers have developed a new artificial intelligence system that could set the sound world on its ear. (Sound effect: random sounds under) It takes the tedious task of searching for sounds to a level far beyond our current capabilities. It's called "MediaMined" "mined," as in "mining for sound." It's the brainchild of engineers at Imagine Research in San Francisco.

Let's say you're the sound designer for a movie and you need a certain kind of explosion sound. (Sound effect: explosion sound) You could search sound files using the keyword, "explosion" and (Sound effect: various explosion sounds under) you'd find a lot, but your search would be limited to only files that contained your keyword. MediaMined goes much deeper, by analyzing and categorizing characteristics of the sound itself. While looking for "explosion," it might bring up files labeled "detonation," or "bomb" (Sound effect: bomb sound) because it determines the sound files contain desired qualities and it does the same thing for music searches.

The system detects the properties of the sound even musical values like timbre and pitch. Then it compares those properties to other sounds in the database and points the user to sounds it concludes are similar.

The developers see uses beyond sound in media--like a tool that measures coughing and sneezing, to help doctors diagnose and treat diseases. Now if this thing could only make coffee as well as my audio engineer.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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