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

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the siri-replace-team dept.

Businesses 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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Teaching Siri to listen? (0, Troll)

chinton (151403) | about a year ago | (#44391393)

--insert sexist remark here--

Re:Teaching Siri to listen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44391579)

Tried that but by the second punch the gorilla glass cracked.

How hard can it be (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44391401)

Every time I ask for nice and clean "hentai furry tentacle porn" it gives me real-life, dirty anal porn. I mean, come on, ewwww!

Good move, Apple. (0)

geminidomino (614729) | about a year ago | (#44391403)

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.

Re:Good move, Apple. (2)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year ago | (#44391445)

The juxtaposition of your post (and the topic in general) and sig have me ROFLing.

They need help with Siri (4, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#44391409)

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.

Re:They need help with Siri (5, Funny)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year ago | (#44391665)

And here's my favorite [amazonaws.com] .

"Siri, I'm bleeding really bad, can you call me an ambulance?"

"From now on, I'll call you 'An Ambulance'. OK?"

(This was apparently changed in one of the updates.)

This may be speech recognition, but it isn't any sort of content recognition. It's just pattern matching, and only those patterns which the coders have anticipated.

Re:They need help with Siri (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year ago | (#44392391)

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Siri:"...Turn left in 100 meters."

Boston Dialect (1)

Krazy Kanuck (1612777) | about a year ago | (#44391411)

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

Perfect Boston Accent [google.com]

Re:Boston Dialect (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year ago | (#44391869)

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.

Re:Boston Dialect (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#44392051)

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.

Re:Boston Dialect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44392197)

What the fuck are you talking about? MOST people in the US call them car parks.

Try getting outside more often.

Re:Boston Dialect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44392339)

Do you mean "parking lot"?

Re:Boston Dialect (1)

VeryVito (807017) | about a year ago | (#44393185)

OK, I'll bite. Most of us call WHAT car parks? Are you talking about parking lots? Or places where VW Beetles can frolic and sniff the exhausts of bigger models?

Re:Boston Dialect (1)

kwbauer (1677400) | about a year ago | (#44393221)

No. We say we parked our car but we do that in a parking garage, parking lot or parking space.

Some houses do have carports though.

Re:Boston Dialect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44394089)


Re:Boston Dialect (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year ago | (#44395091)

Europeans call them car parks. North Americans call them parking lots/garages/spaces. I don't think I've ever heard an American call anything a "car park" in casual conversation.

Like 10 yrs ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44391413)

there were some research on combining voice recognition with basic some lip reading tech and basic remote muscle sensors i.e. in a close microphone or cellphone. None of that ever materialized. I always thought of the typical corporate crapiness as the cause of all this. e.g. scanner technology (home user tech) is still the same speed for the last 15 yrs... As if they don't want people to be able to scan their stuff fast; always using the intellectual property argument.

Hopefully some competition will result in some progress.

All speech recognition from Boston... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44391451)

yeah, that's gonna work out well.

Re:All speech recognition from Boston... (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about a year ago | (#44392403)

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).

Re:All speech recognition from Boston... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44411193)

which tells you long it's been sense I've been there).


Speech engineering... in *Boston*?! (5, Funny)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year ago | (#44391497)

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?"

iOS for cars (2)

geoffrobinson (109879) | about a year ago | (#44391501)

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

Google Voice as a dev pool (2)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44391523)

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.

Apple Maps mark 2? (0)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44391549)

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.

Re:Apple Maps mark 2? (1)

krakelohm (830589) | about a year ago | (#44391601)

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.

Re:Apple Maps mark 2? (3, Insightful)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Apple Maps mark 2? (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year ago | (#44391895)

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

Re:Apple Maps mark 2? (2)

Maynard Handley (2819371) | about a year ago | (#44395961)

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.

California?? (1)

JohnWiney (656829) | about a year ago | (#44391613)

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??

Re:California?? (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about a year ago | (#44391677)

Depends on what "development" means. If it means coding (OS X, iOS, etc), it is done in CA. Boston is more likely a satellite site for speech only.

Re:California?? (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#44391999)

The speech work is being done in Boston because - they figure if Siri can correctly interpret words spoken by a Bostonian, it'll have no trouble with folks who speak actual English.

Re:California?? (1)

drwho (4190) | about a year ago | (#44392253)

Actually, I worked for a company that did speech recognition as part of its produce many years ago. The found the hardest accent was Indian.

Re:California?? (1)

drwho (4190) | about a year ago | (#44392261)

product, I meant, not produce!

Re:California?? (1)

porges (58715) | about a year ago | (#44392541)

And "apple speech recognition" takes on a new meaning.

Re:California?? (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#44394333)

Apple's peach recognition.

Re:California?? (1)

JohnWiney (656829) | about a year ago | (#44394887)

Ok. So what all those ads mean is that all the work is done in California, unless it is done somewhere else. I get it now.

Re:California?? (0)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#44391925)

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??

It's obviously their way around the gag order preventing them from admitting they're still working with the NSA....

Re:California?? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#44392077)

As opposed to Korea, not Boston.

"Hiring from MIT is a no-brainer" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44391713)

Oh really?

these boston accent jokes (1)

drwho (4190) | about a year ago | (#44392233)

...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.

Re:these boston accent jokes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44400827)

...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.

The only people who count as Brahmin anymore are those who can understand what the mayor is saying. That's nobody.

Not necessarily about MIT... (2)

pedantic bore (740196) | about a year ago | (#44392319)

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

Re:Not necessarily about MIT... (1)

Ksevio (865461) | about a year ago | (#44392521)

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.

Insert Bostonian Accent Joke Here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44392425)

We're relying on speech recognition from people in Bahstun?

Nuance isn't competition (1)

Endophage (1685212) | about a year ago | (#44392959)

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.

Re:Nuance isn't competition (1)

SilenceBE (1439827) | about a year ago | (#44393283)

(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.

Cautionary tale of Bakers losing everything (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#44398903)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-10/dragon-systems-founders-take-goldman-to-trial-over-advice.html [bloomberg.com]
"In a federal trial that began yesterday in Boston, the Bakers claim that shoddy work by Goldman Sachs on the $580 million all-stock sale of Dragon to a Belgian competitor, Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products NV, cost them their company and their fortune. Within months of the sale's June 2000 close, Lernout & Hauspie collapsed in an accounting scandal and its shares that the Bakers took as payment for their 51 percent stake in Dragon were worthless. Worse, according to Jim Baker, they no longer had access to the speech-recognition technology they had created. The patents underlying Dragon products including their popular dictation program, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, were sold at a bankruptcy auction. "Dragon Systems and the Dragon technology was like our child," Jim Baker said in the interview in May."

That last part, losing access to working on the software, has to have been the worst part for the founders. My advisor at Princeton, George Miller, had mentored them too, and told me a little about the loss right after it happened. It is quite a cautionary tale -- losing both their life's work and all that money.

A recruiter connected to L&H tried to recruit me when I was working with the speech group at IBM Research back around 1999 on IBM's "Personal Speech Assistant" using IBM's embedded speech engine, which consisted of a Palm Pilot sitting in a larger cradling add-on that did the actual speech recognition on another CPU:
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/41718/IBM_demos_voice_apps_for_Palms [computerworld.com]

Glad I passed on working at L&H given the financial disaster that was about to happen. Hard to beat the camaraderie of the IBM Speech group back then, even though it was constantly being poached by Wall Street (and others) for the stochastic algorithm knowledge. But like with many inventions at IBM Research, even with Lou Gerstner asking for a PSA to have in his office, the organization as a whole may have had trouble making the most of that lead as a "failure of the imagination" to see how such products for using handheld speech recognition could grow and blossom (in a way that Apple and now Google have commercialized).

An Apple recruiter contacted me a bit before Siri came out, and I assumed it was because I was on a PSA patent and they were doing embedded speech recognition stuff. But that was back when it was pretty obvious the CA housing market was about to collapse, so moving to CA would have meant losing vast amounts of money if buying a home (even though, no doubt, Apple would have been an interesting place to work). If i had not thought about that, working for Apple could have cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in an underwater mortgage. It's interesting to see Apple now recruiting around Boston, which, while it has high house prices, are still not as crazy as around Silicon Valley (even now).

Deconstruction algorithms. (1)

cabazorro (601004) | about a year ago | (#44393369)

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.

Hmmmmm (1)

Chuckstar (799005) | about a year ago | (#44395309)

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 is working on a "backup plan", but currently has no particular problem with Nuance's technology. Unlike with Google with the maps, Nuance is not a competitor to Apple at other levels, so I don't anticipate Apple is in a hurry to move away from Nuance as a supplier, the way they seem to have been with Google.

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