The biggest challenge that voice assistants face is being able to recognize conversational speech with a high accuracy rate. In 2016 Microsoft managed to make improvements in its voice assistant and was able to get an error rate that was the same as that of human transcribers. The Redmond, Washington-based software maker has further improved the technology and its voice assistant is now as accurate as professional transcribers.
While the error rate that was achieved last year was 5.9% this year it has fallen to 5.1% after the improvements were made. This is according to an online posting by Xuedong Huang, a Microsoft Technical Fellow.
To conduct the latest test Switchboard was used. This is a collection of telephone conversations which have been recorded. The Switchboard method has been used as the benchmark in speech recognition and it uses tests which involve the transcription of conversations amongst strangers discussing diverse topics such as politics, sports or movies.
The improvements that have been made in speech recognition could make Cortana as well as other voice-powered technologies work better. However, there are still some areas which require more work. This includes improving the recognition of speech in environments that are noisy, recognizing speech that is accented and figuring out the style of speaking when there is limited data present.
“We have much work to do in teaching computers not just to transcribe the words spoken, but also to understand their meaning and intent. Moving from recognizing to understanding speech is the next major frontier for speech technology,” said Huang.
The news of the improvements that Microsoft has made in speech recognition coincides with the revelation that the largest software maker in the world has settled a tax audit that was being conducted by authorities in Australia. The audit had been ordered following criticism that the tech giant had been avoiding tax by employing a tactic which involved having the sales to customers in Australia routed through Singapore. This was announced by the worldwide taxes vice president at Microsoft, Daniel Goff, while he was testifying to the Australian senate.
Goff did not, however, reveal the terms of the settlement but instead said he would disclose to the lawmakers in a closed session. Reports indicate that the settlement could be in the range of millions of dollars. The software giant also refused to divulge further details only saying that there was certainty in tax matters till the year 2022.