Speech Recognition beyond Our First World Problems
October 17, 2011
It’s easy to get caught up in our high-tech lifestyle and overlook the impact of the latest innovations on the less fortunate. The annoyances of our everyday problems pale in comparison with the third world. How many times have you caught yourself saying, “Ugh, the iPhone’s camera sucks at nightshots.” As the popular Twitter (News - Alert) trending topic coins it, these every day annoyances are categorized as #firstworldproblems. These #firstworldproblems occur more than you realize – riding the T in Boston the other day, I caught my friend complaining about how terrible the Wi-Fi was. I had to point it out to him – #firstworldproblems.
While iOS5’s release might not have a huge impact on the illiterate, monolingual folks living in overpopulated third world countries, its speech recognition abilities certainly do. Yes, speech recognition has broader applications than allowing you to speech-to-text your SMS messages during your commute (#firstworldproblems). There are exciting innovations in speech recognition that will address communications problems the plague the under-served third-world market. Each day, this technology gets more and more widely available and affordable.
Here are a few of these applications that you may or may not have heard about:
Google Translate “Conversation Mode:”
Released at the beginning of this year exclusively on Android (News - Alert) (wahhh #firstworldproblems), the revamped Google Translate application allows Person 1 to speak into the application in his or her native language, and the application directs this speech instantly into text. It then translates into Person 2’s native language, and reads the bit out-loud in Person 2’s native language. This occurs visa-versa and in realtime, creating the sci-fi landscape where two people can communicate instantly with one another without speaking the same language. Don’t get too excited, because, while Google (News - Alert) Translate is offered in a whole slew of languages, Conversation Mode is currently only available in English and Spanish. Not to mention the limitations of Google’s voice recognition. It’s not hard to envision a poor translation producing an unintentionally offensive comment – the customer’s relationship with Conversation Mode would quickly sour.
When more languages are added and the voice recognition application advances, this will have significant benefits to the third world market. Members of the Peace Corps could be equipped with Android devices and communicate fully with the monolingual people they are trying to serve, without the need to hire a live translator or learn the native language. Furthermore, educators in the near future would be able to teach non-English speaking youth the English language without having to speak the pupils’ native language themselves. And the pupils could learn gradually, by decreasing the use of Conversation Mode over time. Additionally, visitors to these third world countries will be able to spread the message of hygiene and disease prevention.
Twitter Speak To Tweet:
As we’ve learned over the past few months, Twitter is becoming the destination for the first source of news. This past year alone, Osama’s death was live-tweeted, the Royal Engagement was announced, and Hillary Clinton announced that she would not be running for a second term with Obama, exclusively on Twitter before hitting other platforms. Twitter Speak To Tweet was first used in the Egyptian information black-out when Internet service was unavailable to Egyptian citizens. Speak To Tweet allowed Egyptians to call into a designated phone number and submit tweets, including the hashtag #egypt. This allowed the rest of the world to keep up-to-date with news and happenings in Egypt during this period and will surely be crucial in any future crisis where the internet is unavailable due to intervention by government or any other cause.
The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF):
The MSSRF is one of many groups that are bringing speech applications to linguistically-diverse settings, such as India. In addition to the fact that India has 22 official languages and dozens more unofficial languages, the illiteracy rate in India nears 26 percent of the population. The MSSRF has set up “town centers” with speech-enabled computers that may be controlled using the native languages. In many of these areas where the “town centers” have been established, the economy is based on agriculture. These computers allow local farmers to access weather reports and other crucial information to help them with their crops (not to check SportsCenter). The more prominent these computers become and the more groups that take these initiatives on, the greater impact we have on these third world cultures. (For more information on the MSSRF speech initiatives, click here)
These are just a few of the ways that speech applications are making a huge impact beyond our #firstworldproblems. Do you know of any additional ventures that are working now to impact the third world through speech? I’d love to hear about them.TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.
Edited by Juliana Kenny