Automated Speech Recognition

edited 16030457_sOne of the most annoying phenomena on our planet is the automated phone system. Everyone knows the technological turbulence inherent in speech recognition technology. Try navigating voice user interface with a speech issue, where the error rate increases with frustration. CLARITY?…puh-leeze!

Here’s the deal: speech recognition software operates on units called phonemes, the basic audibles of a spoken language…only I tug and gnaw at words that seamlessly flow off most tongues, concocting my own unique sounds that become hopelessly lost in mathematical modeling. Communication deteriorates into a comedic exercise of “stabs in the dark,” muse confounding machine. I never understand how my bank’s system confuses “Agent” with “Balance” though they do share the same number of syllables. To be honest, the person who programmed the system probably wouldn’t understand me let alone a computer-generated interface trying to reconcile its algorithms with my zany sound waves.

Pure speech recognition is the ultimate nightmare as I repeatedly press “0” in stubborn defiance of the lack of a human option. Worse, it deprives me of the opportunity to escalate the call to a “Supervisor” lounging in a remote call center. By this point, I require one seriously advanced piece of intelligence – artificial or real – to decipher my garbled rantings.

As for hands-free computing, my arms may desperately yearn for a rest but I envision Sir iMac erasing the hard drive when I command him to open Microsoft Word!

26 responses to “Automated Speech Recognition

  1. Hey Pam! Don’t feel bad. While dystonia mostly affects my gait, I too do battle with voice recognition software. I think it’s my extreme “southerness” that causes our conflict! Love your blog! Becky

  2. Good one…….

  3. Got it already, thanks. Well done.

    • Paddy, While you did receive a sneak preview of my post, it lacked the evocative picture and revised ending! Holding your writing in the greatest esteem, I gratefully and gracefully accept your compliment. -Pamela-

  4. Susan Wiczynski

    Though I don’t have dystonia, I share your frustration with voice recognition software on “customer service” calls. Do none of these programmers have angry preschoolers howling in the background??? “A–” maaa-maaa-waaaaaaaaah “–gent” doesn’t even get the courtesy of the suggested alternative “Balance?” , but rather just yields a terse “Good bye” and the dial tone. Keep up the good fight, Pam! -Susan ’82

    • Susan, Lovely to receive your comment, a fellow Brown grad I see. I was sure this article would strike a chord with many people, I’m hardly the only human being engaged in oral combat with automated customer service! They really need to get a techno wiz on this one. -Pam-

  5. Pam,

    it has become good again.
    Even I with an eingermaßen good voice have problems with the linguistic computers of the phone societies and also with the speech recognition programs of Window.
    How heavy it is then for a person who has no more thus a great voice on the basis of illness.
    The technology is not always friendly to person.


    • Franz, You’ve hit the nail on the head, technology can be a double-edged sword. While voice recognition helps those with difficulty writing or key-stroking, it raises problems for individuals who also struggle with speech. I’d love to do hands-free computing but I know it’s not the solution for me. While certain systems are responsive to the user’s particular voice, my speech can vary day to day and I’m not sure I’d ever receive anything near the accuracy I’d demand. Always lovely to hear from you my friend. -Pamela-

  6. I have been trying to use speech recognition software on my computer for over 10 years, buying all new versions. My voice changes, not due to dystonia, corrupting my databases. A state agency worker is going to introduce me to a co-worker who runs computer efficiently with Dragon despite the fact that humans mostly cannot understand what he says.

    • Ian, A big hello to my Facebook friend! I’ve heard of Dragon and actually suggested it to someone I know with a handwriting issue. Didn’t think it was for me but you’ve given me a new possibility, thank you. One thing’s for sure, we never know what the future has in store. Take care. -Pamela-

  7. I absolutely loath linguistic computers. You need to speak in the programmer’s accent and know exactly what to say. The more frustrated I get, the less it understands me. About then I normally just hang up.

    • Murray, Wonderful to see you here again. It appears I’ve struck a vein with this post. Voice user interface certainly is maddening. Often, I’m tempted to throw my phone across the room and almost injure my finger stabbing the keypad! Hanging up is my frequent solution as well. -Pamela-

  8. Pamela,
    try out, nevertheless, sometimes the speech recognition of Window7.


  9. Jo Ann Heuerman Nystrom

    The elderly suffer this mess also. My father lived with dysphonia and essential tremor in the hands..very difficult for him to navigate. I always heard if you pushed O you would be taken to an operator. Don’t know if that method still works,
    Telephones are difficult for me with cervical Dystonia..all that punching of numbers creates a tilt.

    • Jo Ann, Lovely to hear from you. I imagine automated systems must have been quite difficult for your father. Unfortunately, “zero” only works if there’s an option for a live operator and not every system has one. For you, I gather voice user interface is preferable to punching numbers. Technology really is specific to the individual. It certainly has changed lives, especially for those of us with physical challenges. Take care. -Pamela-

  10. I agree I always hit zero hopefully to speek to someone. I find people say what a lot of the time or totally misunderstand me. Good job.

    • Donald, Always nice to see you here. Being misunderstood can be terribly frustrating. That “zero” is my best friend (lol)! Truth is, even those without speech issues are frequently misunderstood by automated systems. There is tremendous variety to human speech and computer programs are far from perfect! I guess it should make us better appreciate a live body when we get one. -Pam-

  11. Angela Harshbarger

    I severe voice problems for 3 years. Started oxygen for sarcoidosis, and my voice came back. It was so difficult to communicate. I am so grateful that it returned. No explanation. When I get a cold I am terrified of losing it again.

    • Angela, The voice is our oral instrument and a terrible thing to lose or suffer impairment. I can totally relate to what you went through as my communication difficulties are the most frustrating aspect of my Dystonia. I’m also grateful that your voice returned, hopefully to stay. I can imagine the prospect of losing it again is quite frightening and all I can say is focus on the positive. You’re a lovely woman and I appreciate your wealth of comments. Take care. -Pamela-

  12. my husband is a trained speech professional who teaches voice for a living – a professional enunciator if you will. never have i heard him so frustrated as when talking to siri on his iphone – so i can only imagine the exponential frustration of those who struggle with speech to begin with! way to use your voice to make some noise about the speech recognition debacle. xo

    • Stephanie, Always a pleasure to hear fom you. The annoyances of speech recognition are universal, evident from the responses to my post. Combine the foibles of this technology with a speech impediment and you have a recipe for disaster! I eagerly await telepathic communication…in which case perhaps we can dispense with the telephone altogether! -Pam-

  13. I understand you completely. Thanks to the Dystonia my speech changes every minute. Thank Nuance for Dragon which understands me even when my voice is almost entirely gone.

    Great blog by the way and I will put it with my favorites. So it will be easier to follow.

    Greetings from the Netherlands!



    • Hello Wanda, Greetings from the United States…and lovely to meet you! What a gift to be able to connect with people with Dystonia from all over the world – that’s the true power of the Internet. Speech issues certainly are a nuisance but what is one to do, we just keep trucking along, stopping to celebrate life whenever we can! -Pamela-

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