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voice recordings

British mathematician Max Little has come up with a non-invasive, cheap test which he hopes will offer a quick new way to identify Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a devastating disease for those living with the condition and currently there is no cure.

Diagnosis can also be slow as there are no blood tests to detect it.

Max Little will be kicking off the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh calling for volunteers to contribute to a huge voice database.

He has discovered that Parkinson’s symptoms can be detected by computer algorithms that analyze voice recordings.

In a blind test of voices, the system was able to spot those with Parkinson’s with an accuracy of 86%.

Max Little was recently made a TED Fellow.

The non-profit organization behind the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference creates 40 such fellowships each year. The programme aims to target innovators under the age of 40 and offers them free entry to conferences and other events.

Max Little’s technology works partly by tracking the motion of vocal cords

Max Little’s technology works partly by tracking the motion of vocal cords

Max Little became interested in understanding voice from a mathematical perspective while he was studying for a PhD at Oxford University in 2003.

“I was looking for a practical application and I found it in analyzing voice disorders, for example when someone’s voice has broken down from over-use or after surgery on vocal cords,” he said.

“I didn’t occur to me at the time that people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders could also be detected by the system.”

But a chance meeting with someone from Intel changed that.

Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders and ex-chief executive, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000 and has since pledged millions of his personal fortune to fund research into the disease.

This includes funds for the chipmaker to develop its own projects to monitor the symptoms.

“They were using devices that detect breakdown in dexterity and accelerometers but they had also recorded the voices of around 50 patients with Parkinson’s,” explained Max Little.

The recordings were detailed as the team had recorded the patients once a week over a six-month period.

“They had an enormous amount of data but they didn’t know what to do with it. So we wondered whether my technique would work,” said Max Little.

“They set me a blind test to see if I can tell them which ones had Parkinson’s. I had 86% accuracy using the techniques I’d developed.”

The system “learns” to detect differences in voice patterns.

“This is machine learning. We are collecting a large amount of data when we know if someone has the disease or not and we train the database to learn how to separate out the true symptoms of the disease from other factors.”

Voice patterns can change for a number of reasons, including throat surgery, heavy smoking and even just having a common cold.

But Max Little believes the system will be smart enough to tell the difference.

“It is not as simple as listening for a tremor in the voice. That tremor has to be in context of other measures and the system has to take in other factors such as if someone has a cold.”

Now he is looking for volunteers to contribute to a vast voice bank to help the database to learn even more.

He is aiming to record up to 10,000 voices and has set up local numbers in 10 countries around the world.

Anyone can call and they need to state whether or not they have been diagnosed with the disease.

There is also a website where people can find out more about the project.

“The more people that call in, the better,” he said.

“If we get 10,000 recordings we’d be very happy but even a tenth of that would be great.”

He hopes that the technology will be available to doctors within the next two years.

“We’re not intending this to be a replacement for clinical experts, rather, it can very cheaply help identify people who might be at high risk of having the disease and for those with the disease, it can augment treatment decisions by providing data about how symptoms are changing in-between check-ups with the neurologist,” he said.

There could also be a role for the technology in clinical trials.

“The technology makes it easy for people to report their progress whilst on a new drug, for example,” he added.

“If you can catch the disease early it will make a huge difference to care costs. It could become a key technology in reducing the burden of care on the NHS.”



A new research suggests men can actually tell from a woman’s voice when she is having her period.

In a study, published in the journal Ethology, psychologists asked three groups of men to listen to voice recordings of ten women who counted from one to five – at four different points over their menstrual cycle.

All four recordings were played in a random order – and then the first group of men were asked to guess which were made while the women were on their period, Popular Science reported.

The tests, conducted by Nathan Pipitone at Adams State College and Gordon Gallup, from SUNY-Albany, revealed that the men were correct 35% of the time – described as a “significant” result.

A 2008 study run by the two scientists had already shown that men find the voices of ovulating women more attractive than voice recordings at other points in their period cycle.

So to update their research, the two scientists swapped the recordings which were nearest to ovulation with those from a less fertile day.

A new research suggests men can actually tell from a woman's voice when she is having her period

A new research suggests men can actually tell from a woman's voice when she is having her period

The second group in the new study still spotted the voice during menstruation 34% of the time.

In fact, Nathan Pipitone and Gordon Gallup said all three group pinpointed the “period” voices more than any other recordings.

In another experiment, a separate group of men – who were not told the study had anything to do with menstruation – were asked to pick out the most “unattractive” voice.

In 34% of cases, they chose the menstrual recording – significantly more than was predicted by chance.

According to the men taking part in the experiments, they could tell the women were menstruating by four key indicators in the recordings: mood (bad v good); quality (harsh v smooth); pitch (low v high); and speed (slow v fast).

Some said that the menstrual recordings appeared lower in pitch, quality and mood.

In evolutionary terms, an aversion to menstruation – whether conscious or subconscious – is logical because males will seek females who are ovulating in order to pass on their genes.

Nathan Pipitone said: “The men seemed to determine menstrual voices by picking the most unattractive voice.”

He added that it is hormones that give the women away, by inducing vocal change.

“Vocal production is closely tied to our biology. For example, cells from the larynx and vagina are very similar and show similar hormone receptors,” Nathan Pipitone said.

As a result, according to Gordon Gallup: “The sound of a person’s voice contains a surprising amount of reproductively relevant information.”

Evidence has already shown that men subconsciously judge where a woman is in her menstrual cycle.

Lap dancers make 80% more money in tips when they’re ovulating compared to when they’re menstruating, the journal Evolution & Human Behaviour reported in 2007.

In 2011, a German study showed the voices of women on their periods tend to be “heavier and less harmonic”, according to Wired.