Google's voice assistant gets better training from users with Down syndrome

Volunteers can 'donate' their own speech patterns to improve accuracy rates

Published On
Nov 07, 2019

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Voice assistants are notorious for misinterpreting input from speakers with local accents (looking at all you exasperated Glaswegians). But because voice recognition algorithms are built from libraries of standard pronunciations and speech patterns, people who have difficulties with speech or enunciation also have trouble accessing these technologies. And because they may have physical disabilities as well, these are often the very people voice assistants could help the most.

That includes many people with Down syndrome. “My daughter has a smaller mouth and a longer tongue. Picture talking with a marshmallow in your mouth,” explains Ed Casagrande, chair of the board of directors at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. Out of the box, Google’s voice assistant misunderstands about every third word from an average speaker with Down syndrome.

“Project Understood,” a new initiative from CDSS, aims to improve Google’s algorithms by building out the database of voices. Spots from FCB Canada follow Matt MacNeil, a Canadian with Down syndrome who works with CDSS, as he travels to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, to work with Google engineers and product managers to refine the voice recognition tools.

 

Other people with Down syndrome can participate by “donating” their voices—recording test phrases and tongue twisters like “I owe you a yo-yo today” on the Project Understood website.

Previous efforts from FCB Canada for CDSS include the award-winning “Down Syndrome Answers” campaign, which let people with Down syndrome field questions online from worried parents, and “Anything But Sorry,” a PSA against using the “s-word.”

Credits

Date
Nov 07, 2019
Chair:
Ed Casagrande
Interim Executive Director:
Laura LaChance
Marketing & Communications Manager:
Kristen Halpen
Board Member:
Ben Tarr
Technical Program Manager:
Bob MacDonald
Technical Program Manager:
Pan-Pan Jiang
Product Manager:
Julie Cattiau
Engineer:
Jimmy Tobin
Creative Agency:
FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officer:
Nancy Crimi-Lamanna
Chief Creative Officer:
Jeff Hilts
President:
Bryan Kane
Associate Creative Director:
Elma Karabegovic
Associate Creative Director:
Michael Morelli
Associate Creative Director:
Marty Hoefkes
Copywriter:
Shannon McCarroll
Copywriter:
Jason Soy
VP Managing Director:
Tracy Little
Group Account Director:
Blake Connolly
Account Supervisor:
Olivia Selbie
Agency Producer:
Sarah Michener
Agency Producer:
Kristine Lippett
VP of Operations:
Shandi Horovitch
VP of Operations:
Shandi Horovitch
Project Manager:
Cori Pettit
Chief Strategy Officer:
Shelley Brown
Director of Strategy:
Eryn LeMesurier
Director of Strategy:
Shelagh Hartford
Strategy Coordinator:
Audrey Zink
Director Product and Technology Solutions:
John Sime
EVP Head of Global Innovation:
Kris Hoet
PR:
Shannon Stephaniuk
PR:
Glossy
Production Company:
Radar
Director:
Scott Drucker
Line Producer:
Sarah Michener
Director of Photography:
Scott Drucker
Director of Photography:
Chet Tilokani
Camera Operator:
Scott Drucker
Camera Operator:
Chet Tilokani
Audio:
Nicolas Field
Hair & Make-Up:
Neil Silverman
Photographer:
Cassidy Clemmer
Editing House:
Outsider
Editor:
John Gallagher
Editor:
Michael Barker
Editorial Assistant:
Scott Edwards
Executive Producer:
Kristina Anzlinger
Transfer Facility:
Alter Ego
Colorist:
Eric Whipp
Online Facility:
Alter Ego
VFX Artist:
Eric Perrella
Alter Ego Producer:
Caitlin Schooley-Groneveldt
Music House:
Grayson Matthews
Music Track Director:
Mark Dominic
Engineer:
Vlad Nikolic
Audio Producer:
Kelly McCluskey
Speech Pathologist:
Amanda Cotton
Website Design:
Bliss Interactive
Website Design:
Kris Van Wallendael
Website Design:
Julie Post
Website Design:
Dao Tran
Client:
Canadian Down Syndrome Society

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