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Look Out, Nuance: Apple's Office Near MIT Is Stocking Up With Speech-Tech Talent 50

An anonymous reader writes "Apple's had a small, very secretive office in Cambridge, MA for a few months now. And we finally know what they're doing: Building a team that works on speech technology for Siri. Sure, it's interesting for Apple to have a remote engineering team. And hiring from MIT is a no-brainer. But here's why this is a bigger deal: Apple has always relied on Nuance, a Boston-area company, for the speech-recognition technology behind Siri. By branching out with its own speech team — stocked with former Nuance scientists, no less — Apple could very well be signaling a move away from relying on Nuance for this core technology. And the speech wars are just heating up: Microsoft and Amazon both have speech engineering offices in the Boston area too."
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Look Out, Nuance: Apple's Office Near MIT Is Stocking Up With Speech-Tech Talent

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  • If Nuance was as good for Siri as it was on Android, an offshored data entry clerk who doesn't speak English is probably a better choice.

    It added a special sort of pain when G took out the voice-dial confirmation prompt in Gingerbread (I think, maybe it was Froyo?).

    Still won't buy an iPhone, but this is one case where I can't hold Apple's NIH attitude against them.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday July 26, 2013 @11:39AM (#44391409) Journal

    Voice wecognition on that thing is terrible. Wook.

    Siwi, can you wecommend a westauwant?

    I'm sorry, Bawwy. I don't understand "wecommend a westauwant."

    Wisten to me. Not "westauwant," *westauwant*.

    I don't know what you mean by "not westauwant, westauwant."

    See? Total cwap. You suck, Siwi.

  • No wonder Siri can never find the "carr park" I've been sayign it wrong all along...

    Perfect Boston Accent []
    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      Well, a better reason might be that nobody in North America calls it a "car park", and if you've got Siri set to US/Canadian, you're not using the right terminology.

      • We have car parks for city people who insist on walking around with those ridiculous toy cars, leaking all over the sidewalks and making all sorts of annoying noise. Of course, I think it is silly to use scarce open space in our parks for such frivolity, but enough people insist on having these little trophies that I'm apparently in the minority.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 26, 2013 @11:42AM (#44391451)

    yeah, that's gonna work out well.

    • Last time I was in bean-town the airport rental car shuttle driver warned me about 'cops in tourists on the shoulder'. All I could say was 'I'm here on business. When did they make sodomy mandatory for tourists?' He was trying to say 'Taurus'' (which tells you long it's been sense I've been there).

  • And the speech wars are just heating up: Microsoft and Amazon both have speech engineering offices in the Boston area too.

    "Siri, wheah's a wicked good place to pahk neah the Gahden?"

  • It was on their last conference call that they believe it is very important. That's going to involve a lot of voice interaction.

  • I often wonder if Google Voice's transcription service for voicemail is a way for Google to get people to provide them with voice-rec feedback. They have those buttons to allow Google to use individual voicemail messages and transcripts to "improve" their service. You can bet they've got an angle.

  • Going it along didn't work out too well with their mapping software... I think they underestimated the difficulty of doing it well, and probably have done so again with speech recognition.

    • True that but I imagine Apple is well aware that they need to do this round differently then the maps fiasco. I am guessing they feel less of a threat from Nuance and don't feel the need to jump ship so quick because of direct competition.
    • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Friday July 26, 2013 @12:01PM (#44391639)
      Case in point. Most human readers would have no problem recognizing that you meant "going it alone", where a machine translator would be stripping its gears. And that's just for WRITTEN TEXT. Now compound the problem with each individual speaker's timbre, inflection and personal idiosyncratic verbal tics. It's HARD to wreck a nice beach.
    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      Apple has done in-house voice recognition in the past, although that was twenty years ago.

    • Oh give it a fscking rest.Apple Maps works just fine. The 3D viewing mode, in particular, is smoother and easier to interpret than Google Earth, more useful for an overview than StreetView, and easier to navigate than either of those two. Complaining about Maps today is like whining that the MacBook Air doesn't include an optical drive. It marks you as a deluded fool, lost in the past and determined to find something to hate about Apple, regardless of facts or reality.
  • But but but... For weeks now, Apple has been running huge ads telling me that their development work is done in California. I never figured out why I would care about that, but they assured me it was really important. Now you're telling me they are lying???? How could Apple do that to me??
  • ...would be funny if any of these positions actually went to native Bostonians. But they won't; no doubt they'll be mostly MIT/Harvard/BU students and alumni from all over the world. And none of them will be older than 30 years.

  • by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Friday July 26, 2013 @01:08PM (#44392319)

    The real powerhouse in speech recognition tech isn't MIT -- it's BBN, at the other end of Cambridge.

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      True, from the research side of things, but in terms of commercial software, Nuance (in Burlington) has bought up so many other companies that they're definitely the heavy hitter in the industry.
  • I've tried Nuance speech recognition stuff before. Jabra uses (used?) it for voice control via their bluetooth headsets on Android phones. It was so poor I basically assumed it listened to what you said, threw it away, and made something up.
    • (Former L&H developer speaking here)

      Nuance bought the speech technology from Lernout & Hauspie when the latter went bankrupt after a fraud scandal. I don't have the feeling that they developed the technology a lot further it seems that it still is the "same" as a couple of years ago.

      Doesn't surprise me as they bought the software, not the talent behind the development.
  • I wonder is they are going the wrong way about it. The dialog's between the user's and Siri are
    truncated and one-sided.
    What Siri needs to do is to collect conversations for one or two years of millions of users and learn
    to carry it's own conversations before is ready to help anyone.
    Perhap's Siri needs some help from the people in the NSA.

  • Here's the question: are these people working on technologies to convert speech-to-text, or are they working on the next layer after that: parsing/understanding that text in a way to produce useful results. Given the state of the patent system, and the amount of IP Nuance owns, I'd be hesitant to even try to outcompete Nuance on the speech-to-text part. But there's still lots of work to do on what to do with the data that gets spit out by the speech-to-text processor. On the other hand, it's possible Apple

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