Obituary: Professor Frank Fallside

Frank Fallside, electrical engineer: born 2 January 1932; Lecturer in Engineering, Cambridge University 1961-72, Reader in Electrical Engineering 1972-83, Professor of Information Engineering 1983-93; married 1958 Maureen Coutie (two sons, one daughter); died Cambridge 24 March 1993.

FRANK FALLSIDE first became interested in speech-processing, a field in which he became a world authority, when he decided to use his technical skills to help deaf children to learn to speak clearly.

The ingenious method he devised for this was to invent a way of converting speech wave-forms, captured by a microphone, into visual representations of the vocal tract's behaviour. The speakers could then look at a screen and, under suitable guidance, learn to modify their speech articulation until it produced an intelligible and acceptable form, as indicated by the picture of the vocal tract, compared with that for correct speech. Thus sight was substituted for sound in overcoming the disability of deafness. The reward of so helping those with severe speech difficulties created a lifelong interest in speech-processing. His sudden death has deprived the world of one of its leading research workers in the speech-processing field.

Such a field of work requires a great depth of skills which take many years to acquire. After leaving George Heriot's School in Edinburgh, Fallside qualified as an electrical engineer at Edinburgh University, then completed his training by doing doctoral research at Swansea on the modelling and control of electrical machinery. This early work on non-linear dynamical system stability aroused in Fallside a deep and sustained interest in the use of computers for the analysis and synthesis of information-processing systems. He joined the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University in 1958, and became a Fellow of Trinity Hall in 1962. In the 1960s he worked on the analysis and control of power systems. From the early 1970s his work concentrated increasingly on the field of speech-processing, and he built up an enthusiastic and productive team in Cambridge with a prolific output of research publications. Their concentrated research effort eventually flowered into a broad attack on the use of information processing both to generate and to understand natural spoken language.

There are two fundamentally different ways of attacking such basic problems in any practical application of information-processing. One uses software - computer programs - to specify how the processing should be done; and the other uses hardware - the direct construction and use of appropriate forms of electrical circuit. A particular feature of much of Fallside's work was its emphasis on the use of artificial neural networks, which can be thought of as directly mimicking brain function. At the time when he started to put a heavy emphasis on the neural network approach, few people regarded it as likely to succeed. But this neural network approach is now recognised as of fundamental importance in a variety of important fields.

By the mid-1980s Fallside's group was firmly established as one of the world's leading research units in speech-processing, and as one having much wider interests, extending to vision processing and robotics. He created in the Engineering Department at Cambridge a multi-disciplinary postgraduate course in Computer Speech and Language Processing, and collaborated widely with cognate research groups in other parts of the university. Recently he had begun to develop an ambitious and highly promising new approach to language acquisition which sought to fuse the abilities to understand and to create speech. An active member of the international research community in his field, he was associated with the editing of many publications, including the journal Speech and Language Processing, which he founded in 1986.

It is increasingly difficult to combine high-quality research with the heavy burdens on the academic who is also committed to teaching and administration. Frank Fallside was a genial and even-tempered man who managed this difficult feat with conspicuous success. This he did by invariably taking an ultimately correct decision that someone, somewhere, somehow would eventually solve any problems generated by the creative use of space and other scarce resources. He was greatly liked by all who knew him well, and particularly by the very many research students he supervised, and by those research colleagues with whom he worked closely over more than two decades of sustained effort. His tragically early death has cut short an outstanding research career.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home