Why speech tech still has potential


Firefox developer Jennifer Boriss went to a local mall to find test subjects for field research into browser usage, especially in hopes of improving Mozilla Firefox.

Then she stumbled upon “Joe,” a 60-year-old gentleman with no knowledge of how to use a computer, let a lone a Web browser. She opened a browser and asked Joe to perform tasks with the goal of “finding a local restaurant to eat at.”

First, Microsoft Internet Explorer. Disastrous results:

Joe: “I don’t know what anything means.”

(Joe reads the text on IE and clicks on “Suggested Sites”)

Me: “Why did you click on that?”

Joe: “I don’t really know what to do, so I thought this would suggest something to me.”

Next, Firefox. No better, except the Help pull-down menu attracted Joe’s attention which, of course, was no help to the task at hand:

“Help, that’s what I need!” says Joe. He clicks on Help, but looks disappointed at what he sees in the menu.

“None of these can help me,” he says.

Last, Google Chrome. Score! — but only because of luck:

He proceeds to read all of the words on Chrome’s new tab page, looking for any that may offer guidance. Luckily for Joe, he spies a link to Yelp which is marked San Francisco in Chrome’s new tab page. He clicks it, and, seeing restaurants, declares he’s won.

Joe had absolutely no idea on even the very basics of computer usage… Mouse navigation, clicking, UI elements (e.g. text input field, scroll bar, etc.), but he knew that the computer was capable of finding information.

This is a good example of why speech technology will thrive in the years to come. For tech savvy folks speech tech may offer an alternative input method — a speedy one at that — but for many others speech recognition is the difference between being computer literate or not.

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