Google wants your voice

Peter Norvig Keynote: SMX West 2010
Image by Bruce Clay, Inc via Flickr

Google’s director of research, Peter Norvig, has told New Scientist that one of the reasons they launched their audio service, Google Voice, (not available in the UK or maybe not anywhere out of the US) is that they needed more human voice data to perfect their algorithms. (The article is not online for non-subscribers yet, but is on page 26 of the current print edition).

Norvig describes the general approach of Google to cracking some of the most difficult problems of artificial intelligence – “big data, simple algorithms”.

The example is given of translation – as Norvig says “in the past people had thought of this as being a linguistics problem” – now it seems Google has taken the approach of simply amassing enough good translations to be able to ‘guess’ what an unseen text might mean by comparing it to the previous translations. You have to admire the beauty of that idea and my experience is that while it is not perfect, Google translate generally does enough to allow you to use your intelligence and understanding of the context to fill in the gaps (of course it also explains why they ask you to “contribute to a better translation” – you are literally doing that by typing in a better answer),

The problem with voice appears to be two-fold: firstly that there still isn’t enough audio on the web and secondly that the range of different vocal styles and ticks means that the material that needs to be assembled to get a “big data, simple algorithm” approach to work is that much greater.

Norvig tells interviewer Peter Aldhous that nobody is actually listening to your voice when you leave a message with Google Voice (which then translates the voice into an email) – it’s all automated. But as Alhous states it is the sort of thing that has contributed to an unease about Google and its hunger for data.

Of course it is not as though a call on the phone network is particularly, or at all, secure.

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9 thoughts on “Google wants your voice”

  1. Unfortunately (or fortunately having read this post), we don’t have Google voice service in Ireland ..yet.

  2. So what they’re saying is, that the server that transcibes your voice mail to text transcribes your voice mail to text. Well, duh.

    It’s idiocy like this that makes people uneasy: Taking well known or trivial facts and blowing them out of proportion.

  3. Isn’t this a no-brainer? Google always has a deeper motive in their “free” offerings, but usually the benefit’s outweigh the costs for both the users and for google!

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