Google finding its voice


Google's Mike Cohen won't be satisfied until anyone who wants to talk to their computer can do so without laughing at the hideous translation or sighing in frustration.
Cohen, a leading figure in speech technology circles, heads up Google's efforts to advance the science of speech technology while applying it to as many products as possible. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and it turns out a lot of the world's information is spoken," Cohen said, in a recent interview with CNET about the search giant's speech ambitions.
Google is attempting to produce voice-recognition technology that fits in with its view that the computing universe is shifting toward mobile devices and browser-based applications. That is, easy-to-use software that does the heavy lifting at the data center in order to run over the Internet on a mobile device with limited hardware.
Computer speech recognition seems like it has been five to 10 years away for decades. Indeed, the electronics and computer industries have been chasing the goal of voice-directed computers for nearly 100 years, when a simple wooden toy dog released in 1911 called Radio Rex first captivated children and adults by responding (at least some of the time) when his owners called for "Rex!" by shooting out of a doghouse. (Cohen owns one of the few remaining gadgets.)
Huge advances have obviously been made since the 1920s, yet few of us use our computers like HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or KITT, the computerized car in "Knight Rider." Cohen, however, believes the industry is about to silence the jokes about amusingly garbled voice mails as speech recognition models grow more sophisticated, engineers pack mobile computing devices with more sophisticated hardware, and users start to realize that performance has made great strides.
"The goal is complete ubiquity of spoken input and output," Cohen said. "Wherever it makes sense, we want it to be available with very high performance."