Omolabake Adenle, a Nigerian-American investment strategist and engineer has won the DEI In Voice award from Women in Voice (WiV), an international non-profit based in Seattle, for building a voice recognition API for African languages.
The award followed her outstanding contributions to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in voice through her initiative to build the speech recognition API for five African languages.
Omolabake Adenle is the CEO and founder of Ajala Studios, a start-up developing enterprise speech technologies for African languages. Ajala focuses on scalable voice automation solutions for the African market.
In 2017, ajala was selected for Visa’s first fintech accelerator for African startups, and as finalist for the Innovation Prize for Africa; and in 2018 as finalist for Spindle’s prize for “Best Innovation for Development.”
Adenle is a 2020-2021 AAAS Leshner Artificial Intelligence fellow, where she is focusing on the implications of Artificial Intelligence on African enterprises and consumers.
Before establishing ajala, she was a Vice President equity derivative strategist at Morgan Stanley where she was responsible developing tactical and systematic quantitative trading strategies for institutional investors. She holds a PhD in Information Engineering from Cambridge University.
The Cambridge University alumna got the attention after building a voice recognition and speech synthesis software for five African languages. Adenle believes she was singled out among the three other finalists in the category because her solution fills the gap for the availability of voice technologies for African languages.
After her PhD, she decided not to go into academia, instead, she went with consulting in investment banking.
Inspired by her cousins learning English alphabets via an app, she decided to build an app that could also help them learn the Yoruba language.
Called ‘SpeakYoruba’, the paid app was published on Google Play Store in 2010 — but it is no longer available on the platform. Subsequently, she got requests to build something similar for other languages, but she couldn’t oblige because of her demanding day job.
In her recent chat with ‘Techpoint Africa’, Adenle explained that a few years ago when she decided on starting a business, she thought she could revisit the ‘SpeakYoruba’ app, since it did well and see if she could come up with something that could build up on that.
She wanted to add a feature that would allow children to say something to the app, and the app will tell them whether they said the word currently. It was at that point that she realized that voice recognition wasn’t really available for African languages.
So, she decided not to limit the solution to the app and saw it as an opportunity to build something broader. Pitching the idea to Innovate UK, she got a grant to explore the idea further.
And in the first year, she developed complex algorithms and acoustic models for voice recognition and speech synthesis for two African languages using deep learning. Seeing the progress, she received a seed fund from the same agency in 2018.
For context, speech recognition is the underlying technology behind the likes of Siri and Alexa; it makes the digital assistant understand what is said to it and translate it to text, while speech synthesis allows the AI to speak back with articulated voice.
Adenle’s plan is to build a solution-agnostic platform that provides broad support for as many African languages as possible. That means it won’t be focusing on a particular app, but it would allow other developers to build on it for their bespoke localised solutions. Think of it as an API.
Meanwhile, the solution is still in the beta phase, with plans to officially launch in Q4 2021. It will work for five African languages which includes Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Kiswahili, and Kinyarwanda, with the plan to digitize other African languages as time goes on.