Len Klie

Nuance Takes on the Human Race

Some companies are reluctant to automate certain tasks through their contact centers because they think humans are better than machines. They incorrectly assume that humans are smarter than machines at correctly pronouncing tricky names and words?
Nuance set out to see if that was the case by stepping out on the streets of Boston recently to put its Vocalizer 5 spoken output engine to the test against real people.

Everyday people were shown words on a laptop computer screen and asked to pronounce them. The words were then pronounced by Nuance’s Vocalizer 5. In the test, the humans didn’t do so well, as you can see on in the video that Nuance posted on YouTube.

And while I’m a big proponent of speech technologies, I have to admit that this probably wasn’t a fair fight. The words in the test were as follows:

  • John Boehner — U.S. House of Representative Majority Leader;
  • Bagehot — founder of The Economist magazine;
  • Keynesian — economics named after John Maynard Keynes;
  • Bexar, Texas;
  • synecdoche — a fancy word for analogy;
  • Eyjafjallajokull — the volcano in Iceland that caused so much travel grief in the summer;
  • Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi — a pop psychologist; and
  • Chuck Palahniuk — author of The Fight Club.

In defense of my fellow humans, it’s not like any of these are common names that are bandied about in everyday conversation. And while Vocalizer got them all right, we don’t know how much behind-the-scenes work and coding Nuance had to do to prep Vocalizer beforehand. Until Nuance can provide that information, I’ll keep my praises to a minimum.