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Forget the ‘value gap’ – do smart speakers have an accent gap?


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Okay, don’t forget the debate around the ‘value gap’ as it’s important. But it’s not the only gap that the digital-music ecosystem has to think about in 2018. An investigation by the Washington Post has identified a potential ‘accent gap’ for the popular voice assistants powering smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home.

“For people with accents — even the regional lilts, dialects and drawls native to various parts of the United States — the artificially intelligent speakers can seem very different: inattentive, unresponsive, even isolating,” claimed its report.

The newspaper worked with two research groups to study more than 100 people’s experiences with Alexa and Google Home. “People who spoke Spanish as a first language, for instance, were understood 6 percent less often than people who grew up around California or Washington, where the tech giants are based,” it claimed.

There are some comical details of voice-assistant misunderstandings in the piece: “People with nearly imperceptible accents, in the computerised mind of Alexa, often sounded like gobbledygook, with words like ‘bulldozed’ coming across as ‘boulders’ or ‘burritos’,” it explained.

“When a speaker with a British accent read one headline — ‘Trump bulldozed Fox News host, showing again why he likes phone interviews’ — Alexa dreamed up a more imaginative story: ‘Trump bull diced a Fox News heist showing again why he likes pain and beads.’”

Stuart Dredge

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