Google Voice Failures: Lost in Transcription

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Same Message, Different Transcripts

An old friend of mine--let's call him Mr. Johnson--phones me frequently just to shoot the breeze. So his Google Voice messages offer an interesting array of transcription errors.

Here we see more of Google's method of inferring text from the available data. Johnson doesn't actually say "Hello Bob" at any point, but Google knows my name is Robert, so it just drops that in since it has no idea what's really being said.

Most of the time, though, Johnson's messages are basically the same: "Strohmeyer. Johnson just calling to say 'hey.' That's it. Talk to you later. Bye." But Google finds a variety of different--and equally inaccurate--ways of transcribing that message.

Please give up, indeed. Or should we?

Help Improve Your Own Transcripts

Though automated voice transcription is far from perfect (and, as we've seen here, far from comprehensible much of the time), it has come a long way in a short time, and Google is continually working to make it better. You can help in the effort by giving Google your feedback with the 'Transcript useful?' boxes at the bottom of each transcript you read.

When a transcript is pretty good and gives you the information you need, click the checkmark box. If it's way off, click the X. Either way, Google will ask you to donate that voicemail to the service to help improve its transcription algorithm.

Naturally, if a message is highly personal, you may not want to give Google permission to use it. But if it's as mundane as those I've included in this story, there can hardly be any harm in sharing it to help make the service better for yourself and everyone else who uses it.

Like most Google services, Google Voice is free. So it's hard to complain when the transcripts aren't as accurate as we'd hope. If you're willing to trade a few odd (and sometimes amusing) mistakes along the way and you don't mind pitching in by donating an occasional voicemail to the project, you can get some real value out of the service. Just don't take any transcript at face value.

Robert Strohmeyer is executive editor at PCWorld. You can follow him on Twitter at @rstrohmeyer.

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