Speaking with machines

Nuance Communications Wants a World of Voice Recognition – NYTimes.com.

Here, Mr. Sejnoha, the company’s chief technology officer, and other executives are plotting a voice-enabled future where human speech brings responses from not only smartphones and televisions, cars and computers, but also coffee makers, refrigerators, thermostats, alarm systems and other smart devices and appliances.It is a wildly disruptive idea. But such systems are already beginning to change the way we interact with the world and, for better and worse, how we think about technology. Until now, after all, we’ve talked only to one another. What if we begin talking to all sorts of machines, too — and, like Siri, those machines respond as if they were human?

I’ve accumulated increasing faith in voice interactions ever since I acquired the iPhone 4S. I use Siri on a regular basis and, for the most part, it’s a great time saver. However, speech recognition is far from perfect, and it’s that lack of faith that it’s going to work that often limits my use of it. I think there’s a threshold with this technology that needs to be passed. The faith that a command is going to be correctly interpreted needs to outweigh our annoyance when there are errors. Siri is right at that boundary. For simple commands and common phrases, it works very well. For more complex queries with unusual words, it often stumbles.

In a way, though, a phone is more of a stress test. An appliance with a more limited set of options (e.g. a thermostat or coffee maker) is more likely to succeed with speech recognition because the potential vocabulary is more restricted.

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