Thinking Tech

To Google Voice, a 'crock pot' is a 'crack pipe'

Posting in Technology

Google Voice's voicemail-to-transcription service is still pretty rough. Voice-to-text engines are hard to make 100 per cent reliable, which Google Voice customers are finding out.

Google Voice is a powerful telephony tool launched a year ago as an invitation-only product. Like the popular Google Gmail, it's free.

One feature in Google Voice is the conversion of voicemails into text which are forwarded as text messages or e-mails. The interpretations show just how far voice transcriptions haven't come.

Some of the transcriptions are hilarious. Here's one verbatim in which my wife left a message for a neighbor about returning her "crock pot" which was translated as "crack pipe." It has other rough spots, too.

"Hey, Malia Ott, this is and just wanted to check if you got the book. I left it dear. You'd or the other day and I will return your crack pipe in case you don't know. I bark at the guest. I told Bryant and I think you mentioned some really good restaurant in Portsmouth and I wanted to get your if you had that is something in mind. I'm gonna call your home phone. Bye."

I haven't seen anyone barking at a guest in the neighborhood, which as far as I know does not have a crack problem.

Here's the translation when I called Malia to ask some questions for a possible blog post on the crack pipe translation. It's full of incomplete sentences and has a humorous twist, too. I promise you I am not that incoherent.

"Hey, Malia. It's John here. Hey I did. Wanna blog on that google boys translation and Haitians no. That's pretty funny. Let me know. I just want to get some other type technical details, just how you know I'd leave a voicemail and it gets transcribes. I'd like to know if all this one will be transcribed and if you have any other funny ones, that'd be great. Give me a call when you have a chance of my publisher blog about tomorrow which means i probably have to write it tonight. You know that I arrived plan by not buying and I hope that anyway. Thanks.

Haitians? Are the "google boys" a country band from West Virginia? "...arrived plan by not buying?"

To be fair, Google admits that the transcriptions are less than perfect and that over time, the voice engine will get smarter. Callers, unaware of the transcriptions, talk in myriad different ways and of course, some mumble. It's a tall order to do spot-on translations. Indeed, PC voice products for the past 15 years have struggled E-V-E-N   W-H-E-N   O-N-E   I-S   S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G   P-E-R-F-E-C-T-L-Y  C-L-E-A-R-L-Y.

"Crock pot" to "crack pot" I might understand, but "crock pot" to "crack pipe" has left us wondering.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure