St Andrews scientist tipped to change the world

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Dr Per Ola KristenssonA University of St Andrews scientist who is inventing new ways for people to use computers has been tipped as one of the young innovators most likely to “change the world”.

Computer scientist Dr Per Ola Kristensson is one of 35 top young innovators named today by the prestigious MIT Technology Review.

For over a decade, the global media company has recognised a list of exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to “transform the world.”

Dr Kristensson (34) joins a stellar list of technological talent. Previous winners include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the cofounders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook; Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple; and David Karp, the creator of Tumblr.

In the School of Computer Science in St Andrews, Dr Kristensson uses machine learning, signal processing and language modelling to invent new text entry interfaces that enable people to rapidly input text into computer systems.

One example of his work is the gesture keyboard. The gesture keyboard enables users to quickly and accurately write text on mobile devices by sliding a single finger across the keys of a touchscreen keyboard. For example, to write the word “the” the user touches the T key, slides to the H key, slides to the E key, and then lifts up the finger. The result is a gesture that efficiently encodes the word “the” as a shorthand symbol. A gesture is then identified as a user’s intended word using a recognition algorithm.

Today, gesture keyboards are ubiquitous in mobile computing. They have been made available in products such as ShapeWriter, Swype and T9 Trace, and a gesture keyboard comes pre-installed on mobile phones running Google’s Android operating system. Dr Kristensson’s ShapeWriter, Inc. iPhone app, ranked the 8th best app by Time Magazine in 2008, had a million downloads in the first few months.

Recently he has developed a system that enables users to enter text via speech recognition, a gesture keyboard, or a combination of both. The system enables users to fix speech recognition errors by simply gesturing the intended word. The system will automatically detect there is a speech recognition error, locate it, and replace the erroneous word with the result provided by the gesture keyboard. This is possible by fusing the probabilistic information provided by both modalities.

Other contributions include work on improving the communication rates of devices that enable nonspeaking motor-disabled individuals to communicate via speech synthesis. These devices rely heavily on a predictive keyboard that needs to accurately predict the words the user wants to speak. A long-standing problem has been poor predictions due to a lack of representative training data. Dr Kristensson solved this by using crowdsourcing and social media mining to generate efficient domain-appropriate language models. The end-result is faster communication speeds for nonspeaking individuals with motor disabilities. He has also proposed a new eye-tracking based text input method that is potentially twice as fast as the state-of-the-art gaze-based text entry interfaces that currently exists today.

“Over the years, we’ve had success in choosing women and men whose innovations and companies have been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs,” says MIT Technology Review editor in chief and publisher Jason Pontin.

“Previous winners include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the cofounders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook; Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple; and David Karp, the creator of Tumblr. We’re proud of our selections and the variety of achievements they celebrate, and we’re proud to add Per Ola to this prestigious list.”

This year’s honorees will be featured online at starting today, and in the September/October print magazine, which hits newsstands worldwide on September 3. They will appear in person at the upcoming EmTech MIT conference from October 9–11 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

About MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review leads the global conversation about technologies that matter. An independent media company owned by MIT, it produces publications read by millions of business leaders, innovators, and  thought leaders around the globe, in six languages and on a variety of platforms. The company publishes MIT Technology Review magazine, the most respected technology magazine; daily news features, analysis, and opinion; and Business Reports, which explain how technologies are transforming industries. It produces live events such as the annual EmTech MIT, international EmTech conferences, Summits, and Salons. The company’s entrepreneurial community organization, MIT Enterprise Forum, hosts 400+ events a year around the world.

For St Andrews:
Niall Scott
00 44 1334 462530
[email protected]

For MIT Technology Review:
David W.M. Sweeney
[email protected]

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