Tell It To Sceptron - Electronic Brain Recognizes Spoken Words, and Will Carry Out Verbal Commands

by Alden P. Armagnac

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April 1963…

Phones that dial a spoken number, typewriters that print out whatever you say to them, underwater ears that identify a hostile submarine – these are just a few of the uses foreseen for a new signal-recognizing “brain.”

In a recent demonstration of its talents, an engineer talked into a microphone connected to a table-top version of the device.

The instrument had been set up to respond to the word "five." Whenever he uttered this word, the brain instantly flashed a telltale light. It ignored every other word he said.

As easily, the device can be adapted to recognize any word whatever – or any signal, audible or visible, that can be translated into electrical pulses.

A composite "brain", made up of a number of the units, could recognize many spoken commands and respond in appropriately different ways to each one.

Called the Sceptron (for Spectral comparative pattern recognizer), the device is being readied for both civilian and military uses by the Sperry Gyroscope Company, which considers its novel principle an advance as fundamental and versatile as the transistor.

Invented by Robert Hawkins, Sceptron combines vibrating optical fibers that analyze sounds or other signals, and a photographic memory cell to recognize them.

Within a Sceptron is a tuft of 700 or more transparent quartz fibers, of varying length, supported at one end like bristles in a shaving brush. An incoming signal jiggles the fibers’ mounting, by means of a driver unit such as a loudspeaker coil or a piezoelectric transducer. Some fibers vibrate, others don’t, depending on their individual responses to the various frequencies blended in a signal.

Meanwhile, light from a lamp bulb travels lengthwise through the fibers – and emerges from their quivering or motionless tips.

All that needed be added to put Sceptron in business is a "memory" mask, which transmits the emerging light only when the fibers are vibrating in a particular pattern – and, beyond the mask, a light-detecting photocell.

Variations in mask-making technique give a mask that recognizes a certain word, whoever speaks it; or a certain person’s voice, whatever he says.

In the demonstration model, Sceptron's quartz-fiber array takes up a cubic inch of space, but Sperry has already made a miniaturized version as small as 1/300 of a cubic inch. Thus, it says, it’s approaching the point where a composite "brain" as complex as the human brain could be put in a desk size console.

Image one: Table-top Sceptron hookup, listening to a talk by its demonstrator, lights up indicator (right of center) whenever he says "five" and ignores every other word. Assembling enough Sceptron units to obey many verbal commands might yield voice-operated phone dials and cash registers, and typewriters that take dictation by directly transcribing spoken words.

Image two: At the heart of Sceptron is a tuft of quartz fibers, like the one held in the forceps. Fibers vary in length, and different frequencies, blended in an incoming signal, make different ones vibrate.

Image three: Photo-plate mask, being inserted, is "memory" that recognizes a certain word. Interchangeable masks, each with a different pattern, make Sceptron responsive to various cues

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