AI Algorithm That Deciphers the Meaning of a Baby's Cry Created by Scientists

A team of scientists have created technology which can read baby cries and decipher—to an extent—the meaning behind them. Cries contain crucial information about a baby's well-being, therefore being able to accurately recognize them has important implications for the field of medicine, and indeed society as a whole, the researchers say.

In recent times, numerous studies have been conducted around the world in the field of language recognition, but research exploring the cries of infants remains limited because it is not a form of communication that can be easily understood.

In an attempt to address this gap in our knowledge, the scientists, led by Lichuan Liu from Northern Illinois University's Department of Electrical Engineering, designed an artificial intelligence algorithm which can listen to cries and determine whether they are normal or abnormal—which could potentially indicate a severe or chronic illness.

Medical issues associated with abnormal cries could include, infections, central nervous system problems, pneumonia, sepsis, and pain, therefore being able to identify them is extremely important.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Automatica Sinica, the technique looks at hidden patterns in infant cries—focusing on features such as time and frequency, for example—in order to classify them in different ways.

"Like a special language, there are lots of health-related information in various cry sounds," Liu said in a statement. "The differences between sound signals actually carry the information. These differences are represented by different features of the cry signals. To recognize and leverage the information, we have to extract the features and then obtain the information in it."

While experienced parents and health workers can often decipher the intent behind the cries of babies, it can be difficult for those who are inexperienced to interpret them.

Identifying abnormal cries with technology is also difficult. But the team's experiments showed that their approach could provide "accurate and promising" results even in noisy environments.

According to the scientists, the new technology has the potential to provide several benefits by enabling inexperienced parents or health care providers to better understand the intent of cries, which could help with the diagnosis and treatment of several medical problems.

"The ultimate goals are healthier babies and less pressure on parents and care givers," Liu said. "We are looking into collaborations with hospitals and medical research centers, to obtain more data and requirement scenario input, and hopefully we could have some products for clinical practice."

baby crying
Stock photo: Abnormal crying in infants could potentially be a sign of severe or chronic disease. Getty