Dr. Schalk is Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder of Helios, an AI-based platform for voice and emotion analytics.
Dr. Schalk leads the scientific and technical development of Comprehend and Mercury products; the first systems of their kind that analyze and extract valuable, game-changing information from voice tone.
Prior to Helios, Dr. Schalk was an Associate Professor of Neurology at Albany Medical College, and Co-Founder of NeuroLutions where he developed a groundbreaking brain-based stroke rehabilitation device.
Could you share the story of how a 1982 movie called “Firefox” inspired in you the dream of using machines to decode human thoughts and emotions?
In the movie “Firefox,” Clint Eastwood is sent into the Soviet Union to retrieve a novel fighter jet that has weapons that can be released by thought alone. Indeed, Clint Eastwood had to think in Russian to release the weapons rather than thinking in English and translating into Russian. At this time, the idea of using thoughts, rather than spoken language or body movements, to control external devices seemed ridiculous, but I kept dreaming about this possibility. This dream came true when I got the opportunity to work on brain-computer interfaces in the mid-1990s. I am now embodying this experience at Helios where we teach computers to understand human emotions from voice tone alone.
You went on to do extensive work on brain machine interfaces including a “telepathy helmet” that would allow participants to beam thoughts to one another. What were some of your key learnings during this experience?
The primary learning from my work with the telepathy helmet has been that the brain produces signal signatures that are indicative of different linguistic elements or emotions and that these signatures can be decoded by proper computer algorithms. This learning is directly relevant to our work at Helios, because voice signals both reflect the end result of these brain signal signatures, and have several other similarities.
Could you discuss how you came across the concept behind Helios?
I have always been driven to make contributions that would advance humanity. While my academic research has produced important new understanding about how brain signals reflect our thoughts and actions, the difficulty of acquiring brain signals has put great limits on the number of people that can benefit from this understanding and corresponding technologies. Voice is ubiquitous and shares many of the same characteristics as brain signals, thus allowing me to provide contributions that can benefit a far greater number of people.
Helios uses tonal analysis technology, could you define what this is specifically?
Tonal analysis techniques can extract, on a millisecond level, different characteristics of the tone of the voice that, together, paint a comprehensive picture of the thoughts and opinions of a person.
What are the different types of tonal qualities that can be identified and quantified?
Helios technology extracts 25 tonal qualities that include the pitch, the rhythm, the intonation, and other characteristics.
Why is this technology so transformative?
This technology is so transformative, because it can translate a person’s voice into novel, unique, and valuable insights, and it can do so systematically at a large scale.
What are some of the biggest use cases for Helios technology in the medical field?
The biggest use cases in the medical field are in the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Currently Helios is focused on developing products for the financial sector, what are some other use cases being developed?
In addition to the work we do in the financial section, we are actively investigating use cases in the consumer insights/marketing domains.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Helios?
Helios is the most exciting endeavor in my life to date. I believe that we are on the cusp of unleashing an entirely new set of technologies that will set the stage for a more intimate connection between humans and machines.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Helios.