Speech Professionals Should Think Big but Meet Local

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The Applied Voice Input/Output Society (AVIOS) was founded in 1981 as a professional society for speech application development. Its mission was to provide education, increase successful deployments, and offer a bridge between the industry and academia. In the early days of speech technology, most of the attention was on interactive voice response (IVR) and call center applications, and AVIOS supplied a forum for exploring how to successfully design these services. The big focus now is conversational and multimodal interactions, with an emphasis on dialogue and natural language understanding (NLU). AVIOS has become an interactive hub for NLU researchers, designers, and technologists. 

From the outset, AVIOS recognized that technical development is only one part of the equation; offering a forum for discussion and brainstorming across multiple disciplines was just as critical. After all, speech technology is just one part of a bigger picture that incorporates designers, user experience, marketing, and the whole conversational interaction ecosystem. The community that we serve also needs to include students; inspiring students to get involved in this exciting area and ensuring that the community remains fresh and incorporates the latest research approaches are important priorities. AVIOS strives to reflect the diverse communities we want to attract: established industry players, start-ups, university students, and faculty. 

Annual conferences were a successful convening point, but it became clear through community feedback that AVIOS needed to create multiple points of contact, and this led to the formation of local chapters. Local chapters created the opportunity for more frequent meetings of people from different disciplines interested in speech technology applications, enabling them to address real-world challenges from different perspectives. When events are held locally, it also enables the exchange of ideas among speech and language enthusiasts worldwide, participants who might otherwise be unable to attend a single conference in a distant location. It allows AVIOS to bring the discussions to wherever local professionals, students, and interested parties can be found. 

Over the past decade, local chapter events have been held in Australia, Brazil, and Canada, as well as stateside in cities such as Boulder and Seattle. There are active local chapters in New York/New Jersey, New England, Silicon Valley, and Israel. In New York, we have held meetings at company sites (IBM, Nuance, and AT&T) as well as at universities (CUNY and Columbia). Speakers have described long-term research, as well as near-term deployments, with multidisciplinary themes. Speakers of note in New York have included David Nahamoo, Michael Johnston, Raj Tumuluri, Bruce Balentine, and Roberto Pieraccini. 

The focus at a recent local chapter event in Israel was human-machine interaction for special populations, with international experts sharing best practices from a global perspective. The New England chapter, meanwhile, has hosted Mike Phillips, Julia Hirschberg, and Alborz Geramifard, with topics ranging from the Amazon Echo to Jibo and social robotics to speech morphing and voice disorder detection. Silicon Valley is the most recently launched local chapter, and host companies have included Google, Ford Research, GE Digital, and Oracle, with a robust pipeline of leading companies eager to host in the future.

The more intimate gatherings often result in more productive proceedings. “The majority of persons in an AVIOS local chapter meeting are there for serious business, not light networking or job hunting,” says Sue Reager, president of Translate Your World (and a Speech Technology contributor). “Out of one small AVIOS meeting, five or 10 resulting conversations are highly likely. And because attendees seem to have harmonious products and services, local chapters are a good place to find ways to enhance whatever you yourself are developing.”

But they also offer speech professionals valuable camaraderie. “As someone in a start up with a tiny design team, it’s great to have a place for me to go to be around other designers in the field, so I can hear about others’ ideas, successes, failures, and frustrations,” says Cathy Pearl, director of user experience at Sensely. 

“For me the networking is the best part of the meetings,” agrees Homayoon Beigi president of Recognition Technologies. “I am mostly in my own corner developing algorithms or writing code. AVIOS meetings give me an opportunity to get my head out of the water and see what is going on around me, not to mention meeting good people with similar interests in the same field.”

If you are interested in attending (or launching!) an AVIOS local chapter in your area, please contact peggie@avios.org. 

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