Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

Covid symptoms may hide in speech

Signal processing reveals that patients speak differently before any other signs are detectable.
October 20, 2020
speech wave form
speech wave form
Ms Tech | Getty

Being sick, whether with a cold or covid-19, changes your voice in a variety of ways. Now MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers have found that processing speech signals may reveal such changes in covid-19 patients before the effects can be heard, potentially offering a way to identify asymptomatic cases.

Thomas Quatieri of the laboratory’s Human Health and Performance Systems Group had previously used signal processing to detect indicators of disease in the speech of people with neurological disorders such as ALS and Parkinson’s. Thinking about the symptoms of covid-19, he and his colleagues reasoned that inflammation and breathing difficulties would be likely to affect the loudness, pitch, steadiness, and resonance of patients’ voices, perhaps before obvious symptoms developed. 

So they combed YouTube for interviews celebrities who’d tested positive for covid-19 had given while presumed asymptomatic. Then they downloaded older interviews with the same people and used algorithms to extract vocal features from each audio sample. The results suggest that the disease’s impact on muscle movement in the respiratory tract, the larynx, and articulatory features like the tongue, lips, and jaw causes subtle voice changes. 

The team is now working to validate the data and, with Satra Ghosh at the McGovern Institute, exploring ways to use it in mobile apps for screening. They also hope to consider neurophysiological impacts linked to covid-19, like the loss of taste and smell, Quatieri says: “Those symptoms can affect speaking too.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.