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The Emperor’s New Clothes and Voice Recognition

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people. Word of the Emperor’s refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor’s vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind. “We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.”

Remember the story? See any resemblance to speech recognition technology? “Highly accurate speech recognition technology” “Fast, fun, and convenient!” “stop typing and start talking” “control your world.” “We’re at a transition point where voice and natural-language understanding are suddenly at the forefront.” The advantages of speech recognition are invisible to anyone who is too stupid or incompetent to appreciate its quality.

Speech recognition started as a project of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Recognize SIRI? Some of the saner exponents see its value for those who are unable to take full advantage of a keyboard. MIT’s Technology Review sees speech recognition as a useful tool for a user interface. But as a writing tool? A captioning tool? Dictation capture option?

Technically “Voice Recognition” refers to identifying the speaker, although that is the term commonly used to talk about speech to text processing. In the transcription business the term is abbreviated to Speech Rec with obvious implications.

So are you stupid or incompetent if you fail to appreciate Speech Rec’s utility? I think there are a lot of variables that aren’t generally recognized. Let’s look at a recent feature on Stephen Colbert’s show, reviewing machine translation of Mark Rubio’s rebuttal to the State of the Union Address.

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