YouTube launches automatic captions

Chris Caceres · November 19, 2009 · Short URL:

Feature will grant online video viewing access to hearing impaired and translate to 51 languages

YouTube is taking initiatives today to help the hearing impaired by announcing a new automatic captioning feature across its millions of videos.

This isn't your traditional hand written captioning either.  Google is combing its automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions.  So basically, the machines understand what is being said in the video and transcribe those to text which can be turned on or off while watching videos across YouTube.  

Another intersting feature Google will be launching across YouTube is an automatic caption timing feature.  For video producers like myself, this is pretty awesome in that when captioning a video it's quite time-consuming to place captions in sync with what is being said on screen.  With this new feature, users will be able to create a simple text file and Google's ASR technology will figure out when those words are spoken and match them across the video.  

At the moment, YouTube's new feature will only work for words spoken in English.  But for those who don't understand English, the captions can be automatically translated to any of 51 languages.  So subtitles for all which will probably boost YouTube's views even higher than they already are.

YouTube currently has about 100,000 videos on its site with captions but in the next week, the hundreds of millions will all be captioned.  

And while being great news for the hearing impaired and the non-English speaking viewers of online video, Google can now index these videos so they come up easier while searching.  Say for example, I type a quote from a movie, it's going to be a lot easier to find that clip on YouTube now since the whole video will be transcribed.  Imagine all those Dumb and Dumber quotes you can look up now... "where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I'm talking about a little place called Aspen."

Ken Harrenstien, a Software Engineer at Google made the announcement on the official Google blog and in Washington, D.C today saying it was, "the most important and exciting milestone yet.  I'm more hopeful than ever that we'll achieve our long-term goal of making videos universally accessible.

Google is aware the feature will have its flaws but stated, "The captions will not always be perfect, but even when they're off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time."

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