“I talk to myself but I don’t listen” – Elvis Costello

The new Android OS doesn’t have this problem! I read about one of these devices with TTS (Text-To-Speech) built in and voice commands too, so of course I had to try one out. I put it into TTS mode where it speaks everything, hit the recognition button and it prompted “SPEAK NOW.” I said something like “Starbucks in Sunnyvale, California”…and guess what it recognized??? “SPEAK NOW.” I guess the recognizer started listening too early and heard the TTS itself saying “SPEAK NOW.”

Listening at the right time is always a challenge for speech recognizers, but in Speech Recognition 101, programmers learn to make the recognizer listen AFTER the prompt is spoken. In Speech Recognition 201, students are taught to trim the silence after the end of the speech prompt, otherwise those that studied Speech Reco 101 will have it listening for a recognition word too late (because there’s usually a silent tail on the prompt that users don’t hear, so they speak too early if it’s not trimmed). Therefore, the first few hundred milliseconds of the user’s speech will be clipped off.

That same TTS in the Android was a Verizon product. Guess how it pronounces Verizon? Well, not the way I’ve ever heard it pronounced. TTS isn’t easy, but this should be an easy fix. Someone at Google or Verizon will figure it out soon, and Nuance will probably get a call.

I heard a great NPR report the other day about the Amazon Kindle. The product is being boycotted by groups as diverse as Syracuse University, the National Federation for the Blind, and the Burton Blatt Institute for Disability Studies. The complaint is that the while the Kindle offers Text-To-Speech as an option, it only reads from the books, and does not provide a friendly user interface for the visually impaired. In fact, one spokesperson said that the Text-To-Speech function is just about impossible for a blind person to use. Basically, Amazon needed to offer a mode where the TTS reads any button that was pressed, which shouldn’t have added any real cost to the bottom line. Better yet, they could have added a little speech recognition so the buttons weren’t even necessary!