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Google’s Live Transcribe app creator, Dimitri Kanevsky, has a Montreal connection

Dimitri Kanevsky with his granddaughters in Montreal. Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.
Dimitri Kanevsky with his granddaughters in Montreal. Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Anne Leclair/Global News

The mastermind behind a new app designed to help people with hearing loss has a Montreal connection.

The Google research scientist who developed Live Transcribe was in Montreal on Monday, celebrating his twin granddaughters’ eighth birthdays.

In an exclusive interview, Dimitri Kanevsky explained why they’re two of the big reasons behind his recent ground-breaking invention.

“It [the app] totally transformed my life,” he said. “I could start to communicate with my granddaughters.”
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Kanevsky was born in Russia and lost his hearing at the age of one, but the loss didn’t hold him back. In fact, it’s what propelled him to develop a tool to revolutionize communication for the hearing-impaired.

“This is Live Transcribe,” he said holding up his phone. “It allows me to understand you.”

The app is ideal for people with hearing loss who can’t lip read or use sign language. Free and available in multiple languages, the app was developed by Kanevsky and his team at Google’s California headquarters.

Since it launched last year, the app already has 10 million downloads.

“The biggest challenge was to develop an algorithm that makes speech recognition more accurate,” said Kanevsky, who first started working on speech recognition technology for IBM 30 years ago.

For most of his life, the 68-year-old had to rely on his wife and three sons to translate and interpret for him.

“I’d have to explain to people that my father is not rude because he’s ignoring them but, he’s deaf,” said his son, Dr. Michael Kanevsky.

“Now I get to explain to them that he’s not a millennial holding up his phone, he’s actually reading everything that they’re saying with live closed captioning, which is amazing.”

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His granddaughters both confirm that they have an easier time being understood by their grandfather through the app.

“He didn’t understand what people said because he couldn’t hear,” said Mia.

“Now he can understand conversations and follow,” added Isabella.

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Kanevsky’s eldest son works as family physician in Montreal and uses his father’s app regularly to better communicate with patients.

“It’s a powerful innovation,” Dr. Michael Kanevsky said. “I can think of quite a few of my patients that are hearing-impaired but only speak French and for them that’s powerful.”

At 68 years of age, Dimitri Kanesvky isn’t finished breaking barriers. His next step is integrating Live Transcribe with another app he designed that helps people with speech impediments and accents be better understood.

He warrants his success to his current employer for allowing him and his team to realize his lifelong dream of facilitating communication for people with disabilities.

“Google is not only driven by data,” he said. “It’s driven by empathy.”