Google Research

Revisiting the Entropy Semiring for Neural Speech Recognition

International Conference on Learning Representations (2023) (to appear)


In streaming settings, speech recognition models have to map sub-sequences of speech to text before the full audio stream becomes available. However, since alignment information between speech and text is rarely available during training, models need to learn it in a completely self-supervised way. In practice, the exponential number of possible alignments makes this extremely challenging, with models often learning peaky or sub-optimal alignments. Prima facie, the exponential nature of the alignment space makes it difficult to even quantify the uncertainty of a model's alignment distribution. Fortunately, it has been known for decades that the entropy of a probabilistic finite state transducer can be computed in time linear to the size of the transducer via a dynamic programming reduction based on semirings. In this work, we revisit the entropy semiring for neural speech recognition models, and show how alignment entropy can be used to supervise models through regularization or distillation. We also contribute an open-source implementation of CTC and RNN-T in the semiring framework that includes numerically stable and highly parallel variants of the entropy semiring. Empirically, we observe that the addition of alignment distillation improves the accuracy and latency of an already well-optimized teacher-student distillation model, achieving state-of-the-art performance on the Librispeech dataset in the streaming scenario.

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