Our knowledge about the computational mechanisms underlying human learning and recognition of sound sequences, especially speech, is still very limited. One difficulty in deciphering the exact means by which humans recognize speech is that there are scarce experimental findings at a neuronal, microscopic level. Here, we show that our neuronal-computational understanding of speech learning and recognition may be vastly improved by looking at an animal model, i.e., the songbird, which faces the same challenge as humans: to learn and decode complex auditory input, in an online fashion. Motivated by striking similarities between the human and songbird neural recognition systems at the macroscopic level, we assumed that the human brain uses the same computational principles at a microscopic level and translated a birdsong model into a novel human sound learning and recognition model with an emphasis on speech. We show that the resulting Bayesian model with a hierarchy of nonlinear dynamical systems can learn speech samples such as words rapidly and recognize them robustly, even in adverse conditions. In addition, we show that recognition can be performed even when words are spoken by different speakers and with different accents—an everyday situation in which current state-of-the-art speech recognition models often fail. The model can also be used to qualitatively explain behavioral data on human speech learning and derive predictions for future experiments.
Via Ashish Umre