Junior develops award-winning AI-powered browser extension

March 15, 2023 — by Anirudh Iyer and Daniel Wu
Courtesy of Grant Hough
SpeakEasy’s technology architecture
Junior Grant Hough placed second in the 2022 Congressional App Challenge in December.

As a demonstration for The Falcon, junior Grant Hough recently typed the sentence into a computer: “Our bald forefathers told the Eskimos to enjoy the Christmas season.” A few seconds later, a miniature blue icon in the corner of his screen turned red, alerting him about the nuance errors in his sentence and offering him a more politically correct alternative: “Our European ancestors told the Inuit people to enjoy the holiday season.”
This example showcases just a sliver of Hough’s latest software project, SpeakEasy. SpeakEasy functions as a downloadable browser extension that uses AI to detect potentially offensive content in real-time and suggest alternative wording.
After completing SpeakEasy, Hough entered the 2022 Congressional App Challenge, a competition where over 10,000 students nationwide compete to build an application. Competitors enter through their congressional district, and the district’s representative nominates winners. Hough placed second overall within the competitive CA-18 district of Silicon Valley and received a personal letter from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
Hough was inspired to create SpeakEasy after noticing a disturbing trend: As online communication has exploded, much less was being effectively communicated.
According to Pew Research Center, 7 of 10 social media users say they feel stressed during conversations surrounding politics and worry what they say will unintentionally offend others. Ineffective digital communication carries numerous consequences that can jeopardize personal and professional relationships.
Hough discovered that even factors such as climate and temperature can influence the way people communicate online, with a shocking correlation between extreme temperatures and hate speech.
“I knew this problem was more serious than ever and that an AI-powered browser extension could offer an effective, autonomous solution,” Hough said.
After completing initial research, Hough began his project by creating a detailed skeleton to outline the backbone for SpeakEasy.
SpeakEasy is a client-server application; the client layer — the medium through which users interact with the extension — is programmed with HTML, CSS and Javascript. The client layer receives user text input and directs it to a PaaS server. The server constantly listens for requests from the client-layer.
Altogether, Hough implemented three AI engines to accurately rephrase user input. He first developed a custom LSTM neural network with TensorFlow trained on thousands of Twitter tweets flagged as controversial and non-controversial. The neural network processes tokenized words in the form of numeric values into nodes structured similarly to neurons in a human brain — hence the name “neural network.”
Hough’s neural network is used jointly with Perspective’s API, an AI interface that analyzes text and predicts its perceived impact on conversations. If Hough’s neural network and Perspective’s engine deem a user sentence to be potentially controversial, the sentence is sent to OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 to rephrase the sentence to be less controversial. Finally, the sentence is returned to the user.
Hough is marketing SpeakEasy at zero cost to a wide customer base, from writers and journalists to students and social-media users.
“I created SpeakEasy so it could be used by anyone, which is partly why I decided to build it as a browser extension rather than an app,” Hough said. “Nearly every device has a built-in browser, whereas applications are often limited to certain operating systems.”
Prior to creating SpeakEasy, Hough had ventured on many programming endeavors with his first being band+aid, an iOS-based app aimed at providing world-class music education to middle and high school students.
Hough faced numerous challenges while creating SpeakEasy. For instance, he was not accustomed to programming extensions or implementing such an elaborate network of AI systems.
“I had to learn a lot of things along the way, and I did so mainly through YouTube videos and Medium articles,” Hough said.
Despite the accolades the extension has received, Hough still wants to improve SpeakEasy by expanding it to more browsers and other languages, among other additional features. While the competition ended in December, his extension was last updated as recently as March 3.
“I see SpeakEasy as an important milestone going ahead, and I’m going to keep building apps that bring a strong, net positive impact to society,” Hough said.

Tags: Ai
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