Virtual Assistants Continue to Struggle with Accents, Irish Study Shows

Virtual Assistants Continue to Struggle with Accents, Irish Study ShowsVoice-based virtual assistants are still struggling with Irish accents, suggests a new survey.

Pure Telecom polled a thousand adults across the country, and found considerable variation in how well AI assistants could understand end users from county to county. Almost half – 47 percent – of the residents of Laois, for example, said that their AI assistants never failed to understand them. But they’re the lucky ones: In Donegal, 39 percent of users said that their AI assistants either understood them occasionally, or never understood them.

This is a longstanding issue. Back in 2016, The Guardian reported that Siri users in the UK were adapting their speech to sound more like North Americans, just to make sure their requests and instructions could be understood by Apple’s virtual assistant. And Google has solicited voice samples from a range of accents in a bid to improve its own virtual assistant functionality.

Given that speech recognition technology, and consumer-facing AI in general, has made some huge advancements over the last couple of years, it’s somewhat surprising that these virtual assistants are still having such a hard time with certain accents. But the kind of machine learning that tends to drive AI progress requires large sample sizes for its training, which necessarily means that issues in understanding more obscure accents and dialects will persist for longer.

Nevertheless, the Irish are still embracing these technologies, with 84 percent telling Pure Telecom that they had used a virtual assistant, and many praising the technology’s convenience.

Sources: The Irish Post, Irish Examiner

August 17, 2018 – by Alex Perala