Professor Ian McLoughlin’s 22 year-career which includes work across three continents, for multinationals, big and small industries, charities, consultancies and academia began at the School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Birmingham, where he received his undergraduate degree.
He returned to the University for his PhD and then made his first international move to Singapore to work as a lecturer. Ian has since worked between academia and industry and has published a number of books, built technical systems and presented to presidents and prime ministers. He joined USTC as Professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering and Information Science in 2012.
“Working in China was a long term ambition for me and I was delighted to make the move two years ago. USTC seems to have recently begun a significant drive to increase the number of international professors working in the University, and the number of international students studying there. This coincided with the setting up of a National Engineering Laboratory relating to speech - which is my main research area.”
Ian’s research in speech processing looks specifically at the conversion of whispers to speech aided by computer technology. “This research has extremely important applications: for some classes of patients who have lost their voice, perhaps due to disease, or as a result of a surgical procedure, the technology can be life-changing.”
“The laboratory at USTC is designed to be the centre of excellence for this research within China, and is well funded. It was natural for me to join the centre when they began advertising.”
Ian’s projects in these areas also have commercial value on the global platform. While whisper conversion was initially envisaged as a technique applicable to voice loss, it is becoming much more viable as a technology for mainstream users who wish to talk to (and whisper to) their intelligent devices. Ian is workings with international mobile phone manufacturers to explore the commercialisation of this technology.
“The application of this type of technology is significant for future human-computer interfacing for normal speakers, who are increasingly choosing to interact with their smartphones and computers using speech. Whisper conversion means that although one may wish to communicate to a computer using speech, just as when talking to a human, there are times when one would not want others to overhear the conversation (for example during a meeting, at the library, or when communicating something private)”
From Birmingham to the World, Ian has pioneered research in the characteristics of Mandarin Chinese speech: “Chinese is completely unlike English in two main ways. The first being that tone or pitch is needed to differentiate between an extremely large number of same-sound words (in fact most sounds in Chinese have at least four different meanings which can only be discerned by knowing the tone with which they are spoken). The second characteristic is the very restricted number of sound combinations in use in Chinese - possibly 60 times fewer word sounds than English. My research considers factors such as these, investigates them, and then applies the knowledge in improving communication systems which convey Chinese speech”.