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Speech recognition grows up and goes mobile

For three decades this was speech recognition: You would talk to your computer, typically using a head-mounted microphone and either the unpublicized speech-recognition app in Microsoft Windows or a version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, from Nuance Communications. If you enunciated carefully, words would appear on the screen or commands would be executed.

Today, much-improved speech recognition is being widely deployed, and in the last two years, it has given birth to a new family of consumer products: voice-controlled personal assistants. “It’s an overnight success that was 30 years in the making,” says Adam Marchick, co-founder of VoiceLabs, which provides analytics for voice app developers. “It has finally gotten precise enough to have conversations.”

Like most things in technology, progress in speech recognition can be quantified. In August 2017, Microsoft announced that the word-recognition accuracy of its conversational speech-recognition system had, on industry-standard tests, exceeded the recognition accuracy of professional human transcribers. The average word error rate for professionals on such tests is 5.9%. The Microsoft system achieved 5.1%.

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