Professor delivers inaugural lecture

Professor delivers inaugural lecture

The Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology on the Vaal Triangle Campus recently congratulated Prof Etienne Barnard on delivering his inaugural lecture.

Professor Barnard is a well-established and globally recognised researcher within the field of speech technology and heads the Multilingual Speech Technology (MUST) research niche area within the School of Information Technology.

The Executive Dean of the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology, Prof Herman van der Merwe, congratulates Prof Barnard with his full professoriate.

The topic of his lecture, “Speech technology for development: working towards impact” focused on the great social value of providing people in under-served communities with access to information. By means of his inaugural lecture, Prof Barnard discussed various attempts during the past decade to create systems based on speech technology – from resource creation, through the development of basic technological building blocks, to the eventual development of several services aimed at information access.

According to Prof Barnard his overriding interest in life is to gain an understanding of how the brain produces intelligence

Career background
Professor Etienne Barnard Professor Barnard attended Fontainebleau Primary School and Randburg High School. His tertiary education was widespread and diverse: after an undergraduate degree in Electric Engineering at the University of Pretoria (UP), he completed Honours and Masters degrees in Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). 

The title of his MSc dissertation was: A bag model for Kaon-nuclear scattering. After obtaining this degree he enrolled for a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which he completed in 1989. The title of this thesis was: Neural nets for scene analysis.

After returning to South Africa to Join the University of Pretoria as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and to complete his military service, Prof Barnard became increasingly immersed in academic as well as commercial research. He subsequently returned to the USA for stints at Oregon Graduate Institute and at Speechworks in Boston, Massachusetts – one of the first successful companies specializing in speech recognition. He returned to South Africa in 2000 to start a commercial venture, Molo Afrika Speech Technologies.

The lure of research proved too strong and he joined the CSIR in 2005 as a research scientist. In October 2010, he joined the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal) as a research professor and member of the MUST research group, which is focused on the application of speech technology in the developing world.

During his career Prof Barnard has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the presidential award of the South African Foundation for Research Development, an award for distinguished service as associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks, the Young Investigator Award from the US Office of Naval Research, the Chief Scientist Award of the CSIR, the Google Research Award (three times), and recently an HP Catalyst Award. 

Professor Barnard is nationally and internationally recognised as an expert in the field of Speech Technology for development, in which he is doing groundbreaking research, and for which he has been session or conference chair for international conferences, guest editor of leading journals and consultant for European and American funding agencies. 


© Management groupSeveral members of the Campus Management attended the inaugural lecture. In the front are: Mrs Elbie Steyn (Registrar) and Prof Heleen Janse van Vuuren (Director: School of Accounting Sciences). At the back, from left are: Prof Wynand Grobler (Director: School of Economic Sciences), Prof. Thanyani Mariba  (Rector), Prof. Herman van der Merwe (Dean: Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology), Prof Barnard, Prof Phillip Pretorius (Director: School of Information Technology) and Prof Linda du Plessis (Vice-rector).


Published by Sipho Msolo