Featured Why Voice Technology Services Can’t Understand Your Kids

Published on November 4th, 2021 📆 | 5919 Views ⚑

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Why Voice Technology Services Can’t Understand Your Kids

Why can’t Alexa or Siri understand my kids? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. 

Answer by Dr. Patricia Scanlon, Engineer & Founder of SoapBox Labs, on Quora

We’ve all seen the viral videos of toddlers frustrated with being misunderstood by the mysterious voice living in their house. It resonates, because many of us with young children have had the same experience in our homes.

Why is that? To date, speech technology has been designed for adults, who have very different speech behaviors than our younger friends. Kids are unique — their voices, behaviors, environments, and privacy needs are different to adults’. Even the contexts through which voice-enabled experiences add value to them are different. As such, kids require speech technology designed with them uniquely in mind.

Physically, kids have thinner and shorter vocal cords, and their larynx has not fully developed, so they can’t always enunciate words properly. Kids also won’t modify their speech or speaking behavior to be understood. They elongate, overpronounce, and over punctuate words when speaking to a voice assistant, just like they do when speaking to their peers, parents, or teachers. They also shout, whisper, and sing! For example, instead of saying something like, “Hey, Siri/Alexa. Play the penguin video,” a young child may simply say, “Play penguins!” Kids’ environments are often also much noisier than adults’. When they talk, they’re competing with the background noise of busy kitchens, TV rooms, and classrooms — adding to the confusion.

Because the speech technology offered by big tech is built using adult voice data, for adult voices to use, it will get nothing more than a passing grade when used by kids. Kids hate being misunderstood, and the younger the child, the worse a generic, off-the-shelf voice system will perform for them. The good news? Speech tech designed specifically for kids is on the rise — and coming to digital experiences for kids — in toys, games, reading, and math tools, and voice assistants — near you, soon.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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