Face Masks Don't Interfere with Speech Systems
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in the use of face masks worldwide, which can affect both acoustic properties of speech signals and speech patterns and have unintended effects for those using speech processing technologies. However, a study from research scientists at ETS found that face masks had no impact on bias in speech technology
The study used a dataset from a large-scale speaking test for which test-takers were required to wear face masks. Scientists compared that dataset to a matched control sample of test-takers who took the same test before the mask requirements were put in place. The two samples differed across a range of acoustic measures and showed a small but significant difference in speech patterns. However, these differences did not lead to differences in human or automated scores of English language proficiency. Additionally, several measures of bias showed no differences in scores between the two groups.