New ways we’re making speech recognition work for everyone

Voice-activated technologies, like Google Home or the Google Assistant, can help people do things like make a phone call to someone, adjust the lighting in their house, or play a favorite song — all with the sound of their voice. But these technologies may not work as well for the millions of people around the world who have non-standard speech. In 2019 we launched our research initiative Project Euphonia with the aim of finding ways to leverage AI to make speech recognition technology more accessible.

Today, we’re expanding this commitment to accessibility through our involvement in the Speech Accessibility Project, a collaboration between researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and five technology companies, including Google. The university is working with advocacy groups, like Team Gleason and the Davis Phinney Foundation, to create datasets of impaired speech that can help accelerate improvements to automated speech recognition (ASR) for the communities these organizations support.

Since the launch of Project Euphonia, we’ve had the opportunity to work with community organizations to compile a collection of speech samples from over 2,000 people. This collection of utterances has allowed Project Euphonia researchers to adapt standard speech recognition systems to understand non-standard speech more accurately, and ultimately reduce median word error rates by an average of more than 80%. These promising results created the foundation for Project Relate, an Android app that allows people to submit samples of their voice and receive a personalized speech recognition model that more accurately understands their speech. It also encouraged the expansion of Project Euphonia to include additional languages like French, Japanese, and Spanish.

There’s still a lot to be done to develop ASR systems that can understand everyone’s voice — regardless of speech pattern. However, it’s clear that larger, more diverse datasets and collaboration with the communities we want to reach will help get us to where we want to go. That is why we’re making it easy for Project Euphonia participants to share copies of their recordings to the Speech Accessibility Project. Our hope is that by making these datasets available to research and development teams, we can help improve communication systems for everyone, including people with disabilities.