Identifying Corona Virus’s Voice
by Steve Gray
In my work with Keshet’s InnovatioNation division, I am always on the lookout for interesting young start-ups to share with our visitors that can be interesting both on the personal level and technical level.
A few years back I came across a company whose business idea seemed right out of science fiction. The company, known then as Beyond Verbal, purported to be able to discern emotions over the internet. This sounds great, I thought. One step closer to making our internet interactions more human.
The story turned out to be a bit more complex. When I found out that one of the recent investors was a person who I had invested in during by Intel Capital days, I reached out to see if we could arrange a visit for one of our groups. I was thirsty to hear more. But when I brought my group of MBA students to hear the full story, even I was blown away.
We met with Yoram Levanon, the brains behind the company. With multiple degrees in Physics, Mathematics, Statistics and Operations research. Dr. Levanon had chosen multidisciplinary studies and implementations as his preferred career. Yoram had devoted decades of his life to developing the intellectual property that underpinned the ideas of Beyond Verbal. However, much to his chagrin, he had been unable to make a commercial success of his findings. This happens not infrequently in start-ups. But like in so many startups, he was so committed to his ideas that he never gave up. He ended up investing virtually all of his money into a business that was unable to turn a profit. Nearing personal bankruptcy, he eventually had to sell his intellectual property to others and accept a role as an employee.
While the company had begun its path in trying to determine if they could tell the emotions of the person behind the keyboard and across from the screen, the research they had done had unlocked some doors that even they had not imagined. After years of research, they discovered that they could identify the early signs of various diseases just by monitoring changes in the voice. Apparently minute changes in the vocal cords and in the manner of people’s speech could detect the early onset of Parkinson’s disease way before any other symptoms developed. Amazingly, enough they also discovered a biomarker for coronary artery disease. Imagine being notified by your phone that you were in danger of a heart attack, even without having gone for any other diagnostic other than speaking on your phone.
The new investors focused on health applications and after the Mayo clinic confirmed the scientific basis for their coronary disease findings things started to look up. Last year, the company merged with Healthymize, another Israeli start-up using artificial intelligence in the same space. Together they created a new company Vocalis Health. In the press release on December 11th, the company announced that it was focusing on cardiac and respiratory diseases. This was 20 days before China informed the WHO of some deaths in Wuhan of pneumonia from some yet unidentified source!
Now the company is using its expertise to help identify markers for the COVID-19 virus. The good news is YOU can help.
In order to develop their research, they are asking people to record their voices and fill out a health questionnaire. Both healthy and infected individuals can participate and provide data that hopefully will speed the research to find a biomarker for CoVid -19. Use this link to connect to the site and participate: https://vocalishealth.com/ . Finally, something you can do actively to help fight the spread of the virus. (Other than staying at home!)
On your next visit maybe we can meet with the folks at Vocalis Health and congratulate them on their part in keeping us healthy.
Steve Gray is the Program and Content Director of InnovatioNation, a division of Keshet Educational Journeys. Before joining Keshet, Steve spent almost 15 years with Intel Capital, where he made and managed investments in Israeli start-up companies.