posted by Jeff Adams
Many of our readers will know that Cobalt is a virtual company; all our employees work from home. People often ask us how we manage to maintain such great team cohesion and loyalty when we don’t see each other daily. There are many answers to that question, but one of them is certainly our tradition of CoWs.
Three times a year we gather the Cobalt team for a week of intensive work. As a distributed company without an office, these gatherings are an important way of staying connected. They also give us opportunities for strategic planning, deep dives on thorny technical issues, team building, and a lot of fun. We call this periodic meeting a CoW, Co being the abbreviation for the element Cobalt, W for workshop.
In June the CoW took us to Brian Head, Utah, into a world of fantastical red rock formations and a touch of altitude sickness. Brian Head has the distinction of being the municipality at the highest elevation anywhere in 49 of the 50 states (Colorado has higher towns still). Those of us living at or near sea level in various parts of the world found that the place literally took our breath away, at least for the first few days.
Throughout the week we spent time hiking, eating interesting food, stargazing, enjoying the mountain air, entertaining one another with evening games, and, it turned out, scrambling to bring in bottled water after receiving the news that the town’s water supply had been contaminated.
The pictures here might give the impression that we spent all our time hiking and having fun. In fact, the great majority of our time was spent in working together (but that doesn’t make for great photos).
One group made some advances in our domain-specific speech recognition work. Though there are other speech products that produce reasonable accuracy generally, Cobalt continues to improve our ability to dramatically minimize errors in situations where the topics are known beforehand. For example, in handling university-level chemistry lectures, we reduced the generic word error rate from 21.4% to 10.6%, where a leading competitor’s lowest error rate was 18.6%. We also experimented with data sets involving regional dialects & slang, business meetings, sports interviews, and courtroom recordings.
Several of us worked on the new generation of the synthesized text-to-speech voice we’ve created, getting it running on ARM-64 devices (phones, tablets, and device-embedded chips), as well as optimizing its usage of CPU and memory.
Though not very flashy, we did a lot of work on improving our internal processes, such as making the tests we run to measure speed and accuracy more reliable and informative, and making some improvements to the servers we use for building new models.
We also submitted proposals for two government grants, one of which we’ve already been awarded. Finally, the management team regrouped on some topics for company strategy going forward.
In the end, this CoW in the Mountains was a lot of fun, but more importantly, was a productive week full of collaboration among colleagues and friends.
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