Google says its voice search system is now more accurate, especially in noisy places

Google voice search on the web.

If you’ve noticed Google doing a better job of understanding what you say using speech recognition on your smartphone lately, you’re not crazy. Google’s voice search has indeed become more accurate, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, the tech company announced today.

“Today, we’re happy to announce we built even better neural network acoustic models using Connectionist Temporal Classification (CTC) and sequence discriminative training techniques,” Google Speech Team members Haşim Sak, Andrew Senior, Kanishka Rao, Françoise Beaufays and Johan Schalkwyk wrote in a blog post today. “These models are a special extension of recurrent neural networks (RNNs) that are more accurate, especially in noisy environments, and they are blazingly fast!”

The new models are working in the Google app for iOS and Android, as well as dictation on Android, which works inside of some third-party apps, the team members wrote.

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Google has reported improvements in voice search not once but twice this year. Clearly the company has been investing in the underlying technology. RNNs are one increasingly popular approach to doing deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence, and Google is widely thought to have a deep bench in deep learning.

But Apple and Microsoft, among others, have also been working to improve their voice recognition capabilities. Meanwhile, Facebook is also doing more in the area, having acquired a speech recognition company,, some months ago.

Speech could become more important as an input to searching the Web in the years to come. Baidu’s Andrew Ng, who is known for his work on the so-called Google Brain, last year predicted that within five years “50 percent of queries will be on speech or images.”

“In addition to requiring much lower computational resources, the new models are more accurate, robust to noise, and faster to respond to voice search queries — so give it a try, and happy (voice) searching!” wrote Sak, Senior, Rao, Beaufays, and Schalkwyk.

Read the full blog post for more detail on how the team managed to get the new performance gains.

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Consumer rollout of HTC’s Vive virtual reality system delayed

HTC Vive virtual reality headset, which uses Steam VR, is already amazing despite how little we know about making games for the platform.

HTC and Valve announced today that the initial shipments of the HTC Vive VR virtual reality goggles are going to be very limited, and consumer units aren’t coming until the first quarter of 2016.

That’s a setback for the fledgling virtual reality gaming market, as the HTC Vive was scheduled to be the first major commercial platform launch this November. The delay means that the launch of the Vive VR system will come right about the same time that Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality platform debuts early next year.

Valve said in a statement that the initial shipments of the Vive developer kits will be limited. About 10,000 developer kit inquiries have been received, and more than 80 VR titles are in production for the Vive.

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“Later this year, HTC will offer the first commercial Vive units via a limited quantity of community and developer systems, with larger quantities shipping in calendar Q1 2016,” Valve said in a statement.

In some ways, the delay isn’t a surprise. Valve has been exceedingly quiet about the launch, and HTC recently said it would lay off 15 percent of its work force. HTC and Valve are going to show off the Vive VR system at the PAX Prime event in Seattle. Titles under development include Fantastic Contraption from Radial Games & Northway Games, and Final Approach from Phaser Lock Interactive.

The Vive VR system, based on Valve’s Steam VR technology, is one of the best VR systems I’ve tried. It features outstanding visuals, room-based tracking and movement, and dedicated VR controllers for precision input.






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