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YouTube, Now With Automatic Captioning

Good news for folks with hearing impairments and folks who don’t have hearing impairments but sometimes just can’t figure out what other people are saying (that would be me.) YouTube announced last week that YouTube videos (at least those in English which have voices clearly speaking and aren’t drowned out or muffled by background noises, music, etc.)

Apparently there are twenty hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute (which personally I find mindbending) so as you might imagine it’ll take a while for everything to be autocaptioned. I did some random searches (for things like lecture, speech, items that seemed like they would be better suited for autocaption) and didn’t come across much. I did find a lecture on the Theory of Relativity that had been captioned, so you can see what it looks like. Captions are at the bottom and a CC icon shows up in the tool bar at the bottom of the video.

You can click that icon to turn the captions on and off, but you can also change settings as well — you can change the size of the captions and also use an auto-translate feature to have the captions appear in another language. It’s machine translation, of course, so it won’t be perfect.

Speaking of that, the transcriptions are machine transcriptions as well — so you know they won’t be perfect either. Owners of posted
videos can download auto-generated captions, correct them, and upload new versions. If your videos have not been captioned yet, you can also request that they get the captioning treatment — a “Request Processing (English Only)” button lets you put your video in the queue, while YouTube assures you “We will try our best to get some results in a few days.”

This announcement is great but I suspect we’re not going to really see the full impact of this until months down the road, when the mighty YouTube transcribing golems have had time to do their work and captions become a lot more common. I’m looking forward to the transcriptions becoming available in other languages, so I can use the translate feature.

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