This speech recognition code is 'just as good' as a pro transcriber

Transcriptionist, your days are numbered, it seems


Microsoft on Tuesday said that its researchers have "made a major breakthrough in speech recognition."

In a paper [PDF] published a day earlier, Microsoft machine learning researchers describe how they developed an automated system that can recognize recorded speech as well as a professional transcriptionist.

Using the NIST 2000 dataset of recorded calls, Microsoft's software performed slightly (0.4 per cent) better than the error rate the company attributes to professional transcriptionists (5.9 per cent) for the Switchboard portion of the data, in which strangers discuss a specified topic.

It saw a similarly narrow margin of success with the CallHome portion of the data – in which family members converse without guidelines – where the human transcription error rate was 11.3 per cent.

A month ago, Microsoft's researchers reported that their software had achieved a 6.3 per cent word error rate. In May, 2015, Google said it had achieved an 8 per cent error rate with its speech recognition technology. Such rapid progress underscores the intense interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence at technology companies.

"This marks the first time that human parity has been reported for conversational speech," the researchers said in their paper, attributing their success to the use of convolutional and LSTM (long short term memory) neural networks, and to techniques that improve the accuracy of data models like spatial smoothing. They also said that they relied on Microsoft's Computational Network Toolkit (CNTK), a machine learning framework the company has made available as an open source project.

Geoffrey Zweig, manager of Microsoft's speech and dialog research group, hailed the achievement as the culmination of over 20 years of effort.

To get there, Microsoft moved the goalpost a bit. The company's researchers dispensed with a 4 per cent error rate cited in a 1997 paper [PDF] for spontaneous conversations over a telephone line. That error rate estimate, they said, "is attributed to a 'personal communication,' and the actual source of this number is ephemeral."

When human transcribers evaluated the same audio files as Microsoft's software, their error rates were 5.9 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively. Hence, the researchers deemed it inappropriate to use a single, anecdotal figure as the number to beat.

Microsoft expects its speech recognition advance will help improve its Cortana personal assistant software, among other products. And it emphasizes that achieving parity with human transcriptionists shouldn't be confused with perfection, because humans make mistakes too.

Cortana evidently can benefit from further improvement. Last month, security firm Sophos advised against relying on Cortana for making emergency calls, based on an account of a UK woman who used the software to dial the local police in order to report an accident and was directed to authorities in the US.

In the future, those in need of aid might consider calling out to idle transcriptionists. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022