Wednesday, November 19, 2008

IPhones, voice recognition, and British accents

Ahh... the problem of the British accent in voice-recognition has been something I've been wondering about in my spare time, but never did anything to look into (even news stories). However, this one came up via PhysOrg:
A new voice-recognition search tool for the iPhone has problems understanding British accents, leading to some bizarre answers to spoken queries, a newspaper report and users said Wednesday.
The free application, which allows iPhone owners to use the Google search engine with their voice, mistook the word "iPhone" variously for "sex," "Einstein" and "kitchen sink," said the Daily Telegraph.
A video demonstration of the Google Mobile App on the online giant's website shows an American engineer successfully asking for pictures of the Golden Gate as well as cinema timetables and temperature conversions.
The website also includes a link to a video showing people with Irish, British and Chinese accents asking for relatively complicated searches, with apparent success.
But British iPhone owners had less luck when speaking the word "iPhone" into the application -- a Scottish user was offered a porn website after it mistook his search for "sex," the Telegraph reported.
A user from Surrey, south of London, had his request mistaken for "myspace" and "Einstein" was another option offered for "iPhone" spoken with a Kent accent, it said.
The only British accent which correctly understood the request was for a user from Yorkshire, northern England, although he was also offered "bonfire."
"I've got a traditional Kentish accent and the thing kept on spitting back ridiculous things," said Roger Ellinson, 26, from Maidstone in Kent, southeastern England.
"I asked it to find my nearest pizza take away and it came back with something about volcanoes," he added.
"I asked it to find my nearest pub and it gave me a link to some kind of weird dating website," said Ellinson. "I'll have to try to put on my best American accent to get it to work."
One British user, Edward Parsons, says on the site's comments board: "This is fantastic, except for the North American accent bias.
"It actually works pretty well, but I have to disguise my (North London) accent with a terrible folksy Texan tourist voice to get results. I can see this is going to be the source of much amusement and confusion."
This is humorous since I am now imagining British people desperately putting on horrible fake American accents in a vain attempt to use their voice recognition software. It speaks, though, to imposed language and accent norms because of the overwhelming American technology bias (one more way in which the US is a cultural imperial power and likely doesn't even know about it).

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