Record of Constant Challenges and Innovation: Science Fiction Faces Reality (Seung Yoon, UST-ETRI Campus Computer Software Major)
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- Registration Date : 2015-12-28
We say hello in Korean to foreigners we meet in overseas trips. Foreign exchange students to Korea introduce themselves in their mother tongue. International couples whisper words of love in their own native language. The so-called “language barrier” is torn down. As the things that we used to only witness in SF movies or novels now come to reality, we interview a hero who challenges the global market with the highest quality of automatic interpretation and translation app through ceaseless challenges and innovation.
Nice to meet you. Please introduce yourself.
Thanks for having me today. I am Seung Yoon and I graduated as a Computer Software major at the ETRI Campus in February. Every day, I pursue endeavors to ensure the peaceful life of humans. Do you know what I mean? Years ago, during the Davos Forum, Google’s Eric Schmidt said “Automatic interpretation can prevent a third world war.” I totally agree with him. As I think that technology that help people with different language communicate each other can connect humanity as one, I focus on the development of automatic interpretation technology.
Tell me about the project you are concentrating on now.
I am developing automatic technology. This is a sophisticated composite-technology connecting voice recognition with automatic translation and speech synthesis. It also needs convergence between various disciplines. This is why a number of researchers are participating together in this project. In the project, I am responsible for the design and construction of multi-language voice DB, cognitive modeling, knowledge learning, and usability evaluation, all of which are the underlying automatic interpretation technology.
In what part does your major at UST help?
I didn’t perform the general course work, but I did field research with excellent researchers. That part gave me opportunities to grow up in my career, I believe. In fact, except for some leading global enterprises―such as Google, IBM, and MS―and leading universities or research institutes, no one is even trying to develop automatic interpretation technology. A domestic conglomerate also tried but gave up. As ETRI has been developing automatic interpretation technology for 20 years, the knowledge and intelligence that I can earn from such a solid background and in-depth research environment helped me grow, while all the history and process of the development of the years are now serving as a contributing force to the research of ETRI.
We’re curious about how you developed “Genie Talk,” the first Korean automatic interpretation and translation app.
My course advisor, who is now the head of the lab, always puts stress as part of the spirit of challenge. Many people showed interest to “Genie Talk” to the extent that it recorded 2.3 million downloads during its beta service period. It is very unusual for a lab to directly provide a service. But, my advisor encouraged me to do it saying that “data” was important for competitions in the global arena and that researchers could only make a usable interpreter app when they learn through actual experience about what the users want. Following his will, we made various tries. First, during the test phase, we invited hundreds of foreigners to use the app and received feedback to improve its functions. During the beta service period, we visited Jeju’s tourism centers, airport, restaurants, and taxi or car rental businesses to show them how to use the app, pouring efforts to make the service widely spread. After that, we dubbed the app as “Genie Talk” and started to provide beta service for all the people. The beta service was also a kind of challenge to us, but it helped us greatly improve the app’s functions constantly by giving us big data to be reflected in the automatic interpretation system. Of course, we gained confidence in ourselves in the process.
Please tell us if you have a memorable episode in the development process.
In the development process, researchers hung around testing the voice recognition functions with loud voices, drawing weird attention from people (laugh). I also remember that when we first began to provide the service, it topped the real-time search word rankings on Internet portals and many people loved the app saying it was a must. In particular, when we started a Korean-Chinese interpretation service, a Korean husband of a Chinese wife gave us a phone call in appreciation of the service, saying that it was helping them have a better relationship. It was so meaningful to me.
Among the UST programs, what was most helpful to you?
The electronic library. Of course, major books and papers are available at the research center, but UST has an additional e-reader rental service and continues to update cultural books, so I could have good time reading books that were not related with my academic interest. The school also has various scholarship programs that greatly motivated me. Probably owing to these motivations, I was honored to be selected as the author of “The Best UST Research Paper” this year, based on last year’s achievement.
Your current achievement is significantly meaningful, but you may still have greater goals for future.
I largely have two plans. First, I want to make shapes of more natural interpretation. Still, the app requires users to adapt themselves to the machine. Actually, users don’t experience great inconvenience as of now, but I want to develop the software to help people have an easy and natural communication as if they are with the same language users, without being conscious that they are using an automatic interpreter or without adjusting the settings of the app. Currently, ETRI’s interpretation service provider―who transferred the technology―and the Olympic organizing committee are having discussions to provide an automatic interpretation service for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. We have plans to provide the service for seven languages. I want to realize the dream of a country freed from language barriers by providing the convenience of easy communication to athletes, relevant people, and tourists.
Please give a piece of advice to the current UST students.
First, please have an “open mind.” Actually, I majored in linguistics. I think the experiences built at that time now underpin my career. I believe that when we approach other disciplines with an open mind, we can give birth to new attempts and innovation. Second, have “confidence” in yourself. When you have the confidence, take the leading role in challenges and show your capabilities. With these, you can have satisfying achievements. Windows for innovation are opened wide when you constantly push the boundaries with an open mind.