YouTube Launches Auto-Caption: A Boon for Deaf And Hearing Impaired

A captioned YouTube video. i

This is what auto-captions will look like on YouTube. Screenshot/NPR hide caption

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A captioned YouTube video.

This is what auto-captions will look like on YouTube.


From now on, when you put a video up on YouTube it will get captions.

"This is huge. It's what I dreamt of for years," said Ken Harrenstein, a software engineer at Google who is deaf. Harrenstein announced the new auto-caption software at YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno.

Harrenstein, a graduate of MIT, explained how he often missed lectures when he was in college because he couldn't understand them. Now, many lectures are video taped and put on YouTube. Harrenstein showed how he could view a lecture with captions. But, even more exciting he can search a phrase like "elephant and mouse," and find the exact moment in the lecture where the professor said those words.

Auto-captioning technology isn't new but YouTube engineers say its never been deployed on such a wide scale. Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. Mike Cohen, a research scientist at Google, says the technology has been around for 50 years. But the progress on it has been incremental. Now it's hit a point where it's gotten really useful.

It's useful, but Cohen and Harrenstein admit it's still flawed. They showed a video where the word "salmon" had been substituted for "sim card." They also said that it will be used only on videos with clear enough audio — that means those folks talking with a stereo in the background and rambling on with loud traffic noise behind them won't get transcribed.

Still, this is a big step. There were a group of students at the announcement from a local deaf school who were absolutely elated about the technology. They were a hip looking group of young women dressed in stylish jeans and shoes and no doubt they were going to feel hipper now that they could watch more YouTube videos without having to keep asking a person who can hear to explain it.

Harrenstein says they will be constantly improving the technology and will hopefully have it available soon to do transcriptions in languages other than English



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