Study: Voice Recognition Software Officially Types Better Than Humans

August 24, 2016

3:30 pm

It’s actually a little weird that artificial intelligence took this long to pass up humans at typing. But the verdict is in: A new study from Stanford University, the University of Washington and Chinese internet search engine Baidu has found that voice recognition software is significantly faster and more accurate at producing text on a mobile device than humans are at typing on a desktop computer.

The Test and the Results

Specifically, computers are three times faster than humans, blowing them out of the water. NPR reported on the specifics of the test:

“Researchers set up a competition, pitting a Baidu program called Deep Speech 2 against 32 humans, ages 19 to 32. The humans took turns saying and then typing short phrases into an iPhone — like ‘buckle up for safety’ and ‘wear a crown with many jewels’ and ‘this person is a disaster.’ They found the voice recognition software was three times faster.”

The test looked at two different languages: For English, the software error rate was 20.4 percent lower than the human error rate and for Mandarin Chinese, that same difference widened to 63.4 percent.

Why It Matters

Voice recognition is an often overlooked aspect of artificial intelligence. Why? Because voice-activated personal assistants like Siri or Alexa need to both hear commands and fulfill them. That second task takes so long that voice-based interfaces feel slow to their users. However, the actual voice-recognition factor is doing well. Once the rest of AI catches up to how well AI can hear and produce text, we’ll all be another step closer to an AI future.

Most interfaces are clunky, and the most seamless one by far is the one that’s practically invisible. As Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng puts it: “Humanity was never designed to communicate by using our fingers to poke at a tiny little keyboard on a mobile phone. Speech has always been a much more natural way for humans to communicate with each other.”

Image: Flickr / Kārlis Dambrāns

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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