On Speech Recognition

by michael_simeone

This past week I published a piece on Slate with Ethel Hazard on the under-examined assumptions we bring into speech-activated technologies, including the ways that they asymmetrically favor some English speakers over others.

Ironically, shortly after it was printed, I received an email from a marketing representative insisting that I try a new technology that, should I buy some innovative new software, would erase any snags in verbal communications with my laptop or phone.

The only catch is that it costs 200-2000 dollars for a license, and I have to write my own application to package the recognition engine. I certainly get why they contacted me: in one view, I’m complaining about something that doesn’t work, but should, and the fix is something that I really need to know about.

But the problem isn’t finding the right speech processor; it’s the insistence that human computer interaction is solely a technical problem. So many times with artificial intelligence commodities, it’s easy to confuse emerging problems of technology and social justice with technical problems that can be solved through engineering.

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