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There Is a Racial Divide in Speech Recognition Systems, Researchers Say

By The New York Times

March 24, 2020

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With an iPhone, you can dictate a text message. Put Amazon's Alexa on your coffee table, and you can request a song from across the room.

But these devices may understand some voices better than others. Speech recognition systems from five of the world's biggest tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM and Microsoft — make far fewer errors with users who are white than with users who are black, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The systems misidentified words about 19% of the time with white people. With black people, mistakes jumped to 35%. About 2% of audio snippets from white people were considered unreadable by these systems, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers at Stanford University. That rose to 20% with black people.

 

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