Google to world: Help us learn to talk to you

Like it or not, and apparently more and more of us like it, we’ll be spending much of our waking moments in the future talking to machines. Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, and I have been on a first-name basis now for quite a while. And unless I’m imagining things, Siri seems increasingly to understand exactly what I’m saying to her. Him? Whatever. Siri just, well, Siri gets me.

So does Google Now, the search giant’s decidedly deft virtual assistant. In fact, at times I think Now gets me even more than Siri gets me.

Google Now is now going to gain an even better understanding of what we’re all saying, thanks to a new campaign by Google to make sense of English accents, including Scottish, Australian and Indian. Working with the social network Reddit, Google is reaching out to the world to help Now learn to talk, and listen, better.

Google, which announced last summer that it had reduced voice transcription errors by up to 49 percent, now wants to focus on the accented English speakers out there, and it’s recruiting accented Reddit users to help out by speaking up. Business Insider reported that while interested Redditors will be paid a decent wage for lending their voices online, they’ll also have to earn it:

The work in whole is fairly involved, apparently — participants are required to recite 2,000 individual phrases over the course of three hours — but rewarded generously in cold, hard cash. Adults earn 27 pounds ($36), and kids under 16 earn slightly less — 20 pounds ($26) — but they read from a shorter, 45-minute script of 500 phrases.

Bloggers have noticed that Google seems to be particularly keen on coming to grips with the Scottish accent, which apparently is a challenging inflection for virtual assistants like Siri and Now to master.

Surprised? Check out this voice coach’s take on mastering the Scottish dialect:

Ads on Reddit’s site lay out what’s required of participants willing to help Google improve its voice-recognition chops. One query read: “I’m currently recruiting to collect … data for Google. It requires you to use an Android to complete the task. The task is recording voice prompts like ‘Indy now,’ [and] ‘Google what’s the time.’ Each phrase takes around 3-5 seconds.”

The Verge spoke with several Redditors who had signed up for the job:

There were regional accents from the UK and America, as well as Indian and Chinese-accented English, with most users saying they’d had difficulty with tech like Siri and Alexa in the past. All said they went through the same process of being directed to a mobile webpage where there was a record button to tap, and a number of phrases to read out.

The post in the Verge said the participants were asked to repeat phrases directed to Google (“OK Google”  and “Hey, Google” for example),” but some just asked for the names of popular TV shows, toys, and video game (including a number of YouTube channels, like Sky Does Minecraft). Others spanned a range of typical Google searches, including hunting for recipes.”

In other words, the day is quickly approaching when you can look up that recipe for duck a l’orange and use your best Sir Sean Connery to do it.

And now, if you’ve got seven minutes and 39 seconds to kill, join the more than 1.2 million YouTube viewers who have tuned in to c/net’s “Battle of the Voice Bots: Siri vrs. Now!”

Photo from AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert


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