A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo

iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

The One Letter in the Alphabet That Can't Be Silent

Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images
Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images

The English language can be baffling at times—just look to words like phlegm, receipt, and chthonic for proof. Silent letters are unavoidable. Almost every word in the alphabet is occasionally guilty of taking up space without contributing anything, but there is one exception. According to Merriam-Webster, V is the only letter in English that consistently makes itself heard.

No matter where it appears, whether it's in love, voice, or divisive, V plays a vital role. Most letters are phonetic chameleons: That's why the C sounds different in cat and city, and why the g sounds like nothing at all in gnash. V is unique in that it never goes through an identity crisis.

There are a few letters that rival V's special status. Z is only silent in words we borrowed from the French, like chez, laissez-faire, and rendezvous. The one silent J in the entire English language appears in marijuana, a term of Spanish origin. But even accounting for words we've adopted from other tongues, there's not one example of a silent V in the English dictionary.

The prevalence of silent letters is just one frustrating aspect of our language. Here are a few more obstacles foreign speakers must encounter when learning English.

Rosetta Stone Is Offering Big Savings on Language-Learning Subscriptions for a Limited Time

Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone

If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to start learning a new language, now might be the perfect time. Through the end of the day on February 14, Rosetta Stone is offering major savings on language-learning software and subscriptions, making this a unique Valentine's Day gift for your significant other or just for yourself. The best deal is still the lifetime subscription for $199 (save $100), but there are other low prices on three-month, 12-month, and 24-month plans. You can read more about them here.

With the online subscription, you can access lessons to learn Spanish, German, French, Chinese and the many other available languages on any device. Along with getting a full course, your online subscription also comes with a phrasebook full of common expressions that are perfect for traveling, games that match your language level, stories to read for extra vocabulary practice, and much more. And the best part is that you’ll be able to participate in these language-learning exercises and courses on your own schedule and take them with you on the go.

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