Stanford students build an app that changes accents: Founded by Serebryakov, Andrés Pérez Soderi, and Shawn Zhang, the app came to life last year and was called Sanas, which changes the accent of people in real-time. BBC reports that the name was given so it can be pronounced easily in different languages, in an effort to highlight their “global mission and wish to bring people closer together.”
The three founders are from Russia, China, and Venezuela, and have struggled with accent difficulties. Serebryakov said, “We all come from international backgrounds. We’ve seen firsthand how people treat you differently just because of the way you speak.”
Zhang’s mother still feels embarrassed speaking to a cashier in a store who has her son speak for her. He said. “That’s one reason I joined Max and Andrés in building this company, trying to help out those people who think their voices aren’t being heard as much as their accents.”
Serebryakov believes that companies today are trying to erase accents, even though accents and identities are closely linked together. “We allow people to not have to change the way they speak to hold a position, to hold a job. Identity and accents are critical. They’re intertwined. You never want someone to change their accent just to satisfy someone, ” he says.
Sanas can convert English to and from, American, Australian, British, Filipino, Indian and Spanish accents. They easily add a new accent into the system by training a neural network with audio recordings, given by professional actors and other kinds of data, and processing it over several weeks.
Pérez says that “the accent changes, but intonation is maintained. We’re continuing to work on how to make the outcome as natural and as emotive and exciting as possible.”
Earlier this year, their company earned an investment of $5.5 million for their future plans with this app. The app is still isn’t available in Play Store yet and neither shows up on phones. The founders say that they have been working with large call centers and outsourcing their, slowly rolling it out to individual users to refine the technology and ensure security.
Santa has big plans in helping doctor-patient communication, helping people learn languages, improving dubbing in films, and helping voice assistants at home recognize commands in different accents.