Voice Recognition: What Could Go Wrong?

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

I impressed my sister the other day by talking into my mobile phone and ordering it to call her - which it did. I know, I know, you are all familiar with voice recognition technology. You tell your televisions to tune into Netflix and the next thing you know Bridgerton sails into view.

We are getting on a bit and all this razzamatazz is somewhat alien. The idea of any object, let alone a phone, being able to understand a word we say and then act on it is astonishing to us.

When we were children we lived on a farm and our telephone number had only three digits. Things have moved on since those days. Now you need a PhD in mnemonics to remember your mobile number.

Another innovation is Google’s voice search technology, designed to make life easier for people with accents. The technology has not yet been rolled out and no firm decision has been taken on whether it ever will be but patents have been lodged.

The idea is that how you speak is a predictor of what you may be interested in. The system could give different search results to people depending on their accent.

So presumably if you are in London and in a super posh accent ask your phone to find you a restaurant, you will be directed to some ultra swish eaterie where a dozen oysters cost you an arm and a leg. If you ask in your best regional accent, you will be given the address of the nearest fish and chip shop.

Data will be stored from people with similar accents and used to predict content they may like, the premise being that there is similarity between regional populations.

It's obvious that everyone with the same accent must like all the same things. Mustn't it?

Um, no. If my nephew the farmer who likes Westerns is looking for a film to watch then his daughter, the psychological thriller obsessed care worker, could get Westerns in her results too. My taste in music must be similar to that of my 16-year-old niece, after all we only live six miles apart. What could go wrong?

Call me old-fashioned (and people often do), but I would have thought there was as much diversity among people with similar accents as there was with the whole population.

So, please, people with a Devon accent like mine, do not go asking about war films, hip hop or designer clothes as I have no interest in any of them. I don't want you skewing my search results.

If you could limit your queries to include George Clooney, chocolate, books and, cheesy music, it would be very much appreciated. 

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  1. I can see how that would go wrong. I'm not a surfer, but with my southern California accent, I would be grouped in with surfer boys. I shudder to think what else they'd pile on with that.

  2. A brave new world! My Alexa on Kindle often misunderstands me so I either mispronounce a whole lot of words or she's dumber than I am. I don't think I have an accent but I really do hate the idea of us getting different search results based on accents. We're already too divided in the information we get through the media.

    1. Exactly! I want my search results to be the same everyone else's.

  3. That does seem wrong to assume one's likes based on accent.

  4. I've lost a lot of my Devon accent, only a tinge left - but it's there!