Dissecting Voices to Find the Hidden Call For Help

A cell phone could detect an approaching manic-depressive mood swing by recognizing complex patterns in your voice.

« previous episode | next episode »

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Amber Smith's voice is a symptom of illness and an alarm for looming danger, even if she doesn't always hear it herself.

Amber has bipolar disorder and her mood swings are a risk: high highs can lead to massive spending sprees and low lows have dipped into suicidal territory. She's managing it now with medication. She's also testing out a new technology to try to catch a mood swing before it starts by using her cell phone to analyze the acoustics of her voice. Tiny variations in how she speaks, or you speak, can be clues to shifting mental states. 

"Speech is incredibly rich it encodes so much of our behavior, it encodes information about gender, about our age, about our identity, and in this case about mood," explains computer engineering professor Emily Mower Provost of the University of Michigan. She and her colleague psychiatrist Melvin McInnis are testing out how to plumb the hidden signals and codes of a human voice to enable early action and better care for people with mental health issues. 

It gets touching, it gets ambitious, and it's all pretty hopeful. Have a listen. 

This is Part 1 of a two part series on voices and how computers and new technology can hear hidden meaning in how we speak. Next week: how this is being used to make products and profits. Subscribe to New Tech City here to make sure you don't miss it

    Music Playlist
  1. Burning Down Alt 1
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  2. On Top
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  3. Nice Kitty
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  4. River Runs Backwards
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  5. Jumpin'
    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
  6. Walking Up To You


Melvin McInnis, Emily Mower Provost and Amber Smith

Hosted by:

Manoush Zomorodi

Comments [4]

travis from Somewheresville

it's depressing that WNYC feels the need to use a picture of a cute girl to sell this story. BTW the original photo is captioned "Cute by day, evil bitch by night." Nice.

Jul. 20 2014 09:13 PM

Nitpicker 1 & Nitpicker 2 have reported for duty.

Jul. 17 2014 09:21 AM
Kim D

"...testing out how to plum the hidden secrets..."

Really, New Tech City? Try "plumb" as in 'measure or test' rather than "plum" the fruit. I know it's nit-picky, but I think we all expect a bit more from NPR-related shows.

Jul. 16 2014 06:50 PM
Jamie Fenwick from NYC

"It's very technical"???

What a copout comment from a professional journalist on this type of show

Jul. 16 2014 09:46 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.