Voice assistants still have problems understanding strong accents


Cultural biases in tech aren't just limited to facial recognition -- they crop up in voice assistants as well. The Washington Post has partnered with research groups on studies showing that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant aren't as accurate understanding people with strong accents, no matter how fluent their English might be. People with Indian accents were at a relatively mild disadvantage in one study, but the overall accuracy went down by at least 2.6 percent for those with Chinese accents, and by as much as 4.2 percent for Spanish accents. The gap was particularly acute in media playback, where a Spanish accent might net a 79.9 accuracy rate versus 91.8 percent from an Eastern US accent. A second study showed how voice assistants would frequently mangle interpretations when people read news headlines out loud.

Microsoft researchers crack voice recognition barrier

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SAN FRANCISCO - As handy as all our voice recognition friends are, conversing with them still feels you're talking to a foreign relative. Whether its Siri (Apple) or Alexa (Amazon) or Google Assistant or Cortana (Microsoft), each requires the human to speak in slow, articulated phrases to increase the odds of comprehension. But researchers at Microsoft say they've reached a milestone that promises a future where machines can transcribe us as well as another person. In a paper published Monday called "Achieving Human Parity in Conversational Speech Recognition," engineers with Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research announced they'd developed a speech recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors as professional transcriptionists. The team hit a word error rate of 5.9 percent, down from the 6.3 percent WER the team reported just last month.

Ford taps Clinc for conversational AI in autos


Clinc, a four-year-old conversational AI startup, is teaming up with Ford to power voice recognition in the Detroit automaker's cars. The two companies announced the collaboration today during the Detroit Auto Show, at a panel hosted by Inforum about machine learning and the future of in-vehicle technology. According to Clinc CEO Dr. Jason Mars, the Ann Arbor company's automotive platform, which was announced in September 2018, is enabling drivers and passengers to control vehicle systems using natural language in Ford's connected car lab. They can make verbal requests to turn up the air conditioning, adjust cruise control, and check fuel mileage, or ask if there's enough gas for a trip to a specific address. "What we found in our collaboration with Ford is that when you bring in a conversational experience that allows you to talk to your car naturally, it improves the lives of people driving those cars," Mars said.

Snips lets you build your own voice assistant to embed into your devices


French startup Snips is now helping you build a custom voice assistant for your device. Snips doesn't use Amazon's Alexa Voice Service or Google Assistant SDK -- the company is building its own voice assistant so that you can embed it on your devices. And the best part is that it doesn't send anything to the cloud as it works offline.

Future of voice recognition: Assistants that learn from you

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Voice-activated assistants are playing an increasingly prominent role in the technology world, with Apple's introduction of Siri for the iPhone 4S and Google's (rumored) work on a Siri competitor for Android phones. Voice-activated technology isn't new--it's just getting better because of increasingly powerful processors and cloud services, advancements in natural language processing, and improved algorithms for recognizing voice. We spoke with Nuance Communications, maker of Dragon software and one of the biggest names in voice recognition technologies, about why voice is becoming more popular and what advancements we can expect in the future. Peter Mahoney, Nuance chief marketing officer and general manager of the Dragon desktop business, told Ars one of the most significant improvements coming in the next few years is a far more conversational voice-activated assistant that remembers everything you say. This should create better responses to casual questions.