Logo: University of Southern California

A Rising Star is Hitched to a Great Name

Shri Narayanan Awarded Viterbi School's New Viterbi Chair
Eric Mankin
April 10, 2007 —
multitalented: Shri Narayan
One of America's brilliant young engineers, Shri Narayanan added still another honor to a lengthening list when he was named the first holder of the Viterbi Professorship in Engineering, effective July 1, 2007.

"The appointment recognizes Shri’s exceptional distinction and will be for a term of five years," said Dean Yannis Yortsos, in making the annoucement.

Narayanan is a professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, with joint appointments in computer Science, linguistics and psychology.
"Shri does outstanding research in speech processing technology, spoken language science and multimedia integration of these fields," said Alexander Sawchuk, systems chair in the Hsieh Department, and director of the Signal and Image Processing Instititue (SIPI), of which Narayanan is a part, on the occasion of his recent election as a fellow of the Acoustic Society of America.

Shri has excelled in diverse areas such as voice-to-voice speech translation, laughter analysis and production, tailoring speech recognition and production to children in order to produce better educational toys, and answering system devices that detect irritation in callers voices.
Drawing on expertise across school and university disciplinary lines, ranging from the Viterbi School's Information Sciences Institute to medical students at the Keck School, Narayanan recently produced a laptop package called Transonics that translates a doctor's spoken English into spoken Persian, and patients' Persian into English.
At Narayanan's SAIL (Speech Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory) researchers are developing the technology for language and literacy assessment in young children, especially those from bilingual backgrounds. The hope is to empower teachers with new tools and provide consistent and efficient assessment methods to target individuals.
Narayanan wants to make robot voices more natural and human sounding, even friendly. He has another computer system that synthesizes sound clearly recognizable as laughter so that a machine will sound happy rather than macabre to human listeners.

"It is in that interface between humans and technology that a great many challenges lie," he said. "I believe we need to adopt a holistic approach and have no choice but to be interdisciplinary,” says Narayanan. “Researchers are already building machines that can talk, listen, understand, respond, perhaps even laugh and sing.  The greatest challenge is in how we can bring these together in meaningful and societally relevant ways.  My vision is science that unravels some of the mechanism of underlying human traits, to create technology that can be in tune with these human traits and needs.
“I think USC is a place where this can be really done.”

In addition to his fellowship in the Acoustical Society of America, he  is the Editor-in-Chief for the Computer, Speech and Language Journal, served as an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions of Speech and Audio Processing (2000-04) and is currently an Associate Editor of the IEEE Signal Processing Magazine.  Narayanan is a Senior member of IEEE, and a member of Tau-Beta-Pi, Phi Kappa Phi and Eta-Kappa-Nu.

He is a recipient of an NSF Career Award, the USC Engineering Junior Research Award, the USC Electrical Engineering Northrop Grumman Research Award, a Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring and a recipient of a 2005 best paper award from the IEEE Signal Processing Society. Papers with his students have won best student paper awards at ICSLP’02, ICASSP’05, and MMSP’06. He has published over 200 papers and has 14 granted/pending U.S. patents.