Sunday 19 November 2017

€7m Dublin voice technology firm hires one of Google's top experts

Peter Cahill
Peter Cahill
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

A Dublin-based voice technology startup that has recently announced a €7m funding round has nabbed one of Google’s top voice technology engineers, Ian Hodson.

Mr Hodson had led Google’s global text to speech efforts, which are used in a wide range of Google’s products including Google Assistant, Google Maps, and Android. He has joined the Dublin company as an ‘architect’.

Voysis, set up by Peter Cahill, has built a voice recognition system that specialises in natural language processing and text to speech capabilities. Earlier this year, it raised €7m from the venture capital firm Polaris Partners through its European venture partner Noel Ruane.

A company statement said that Mr Hodson will be playing a “leading role” across product, strategy and R&D.

“Ian is renowned for his domain knowledge and mentoring skills and is regarded by many leading scientists and engineers in this space as the very best at what he does,” said Mr Cahill, who is also chief executive of Voysis.

“Ian's breadth of in-domain experience at companies both small and large will no doubt have an impact on all aspects of the company,”.

Most recently, Mr Hodson led the Google Text to Speech team following the 2010 acquisition of Phonetic Arts, where he was a co-founder and vice president of engineering. At Google, Hodson was responsible for integrating the team and technology into Google’s voice services and led all recruiting efforts for the team for over a five year period.

Mr Hodson previously worked at voice recognition firm Nuance, where he led the post-acquisition integration of Rhetorical Systems, a company he had previously served as vice president of software engineering.

“Given my career to date, I have a deep appreciation and respect for the magnitude of the challenges that companies across all industries face in a ‘voice-first’ world,” said Hodson. “I am thrilled to join the team and be a part of making Voice AI accessible to companies across all verticals.”

Polaris Partners’ European partner, Noel Ruane, said that the company’s prospects were positive.

“We’ve tapped into an excellent resource of voice, natural language, and deep learning talent in Europe and Ian’s joining is a great early milestone for the business as we look toward the next phase of our evolution as a company,” he said.

“There’s a long history of AI and natural language research across many of the top universities in Europe and we’re thrilled that Voysis is already becoming known as a go-to destination for the top talent coming out of these leading institutions.”

Voice recognition technology is one of the fastest-evolving areas of technology at present.

“The day when you can do [what Captain Picard] did is not far away at all,” Mr Cahill recently told Independent.ie. “We’re talking months or maybe a year for the technology to be capable and then maybe a bit longer for it to be built out into products.”

In the 1990s television series ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’, Captain Jean Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) commanded his ship by barking orders out loud to the ship’s computer.

“I think, in general, that artificial intelligence is developing at a faster pace than before,” said Mr Cahill. “It’s not iterative, it’s coming in leaps.”

Voysis’s technology allows third party companies to control how the software and generated data is used. This means they can use it for their own websites and applications.

Voice recognition technology is widely seen as one of the biggest growth areas in the tech world, partially thanks to billions in investment from Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

“In May last year, 20pc of all Google and Android searches were voice based,” said Mr Cahill. “And I’ve seen credible projections that 50pc of all search will be voice based by 2019. Usage figures are skyrocketing. Younger demographics use it more heavily, but then everyone else catches on. I saw one figure which said that 51pc of teenagers in the US use voice technology.”

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