Is using hidden agents to support speech recognition “cheating”?

Spoken | August 9, 2016

BillMeisel by guest blogger Bill Meisel, President, TMA Associates and Editor, Speech Strategy News

Is using hidden agents to support speech recognition “cheating”?
Not too long ago, SpinVox was attacked in the British press
for using agents behind the scenes to help the speech recognition technology in
their voicemail-to-text service. Part of the reasoning in the critiques was
that they were making the speech recognition look too good by a false pretense.
The company had in fact revealed long ago that they were forwarding bad-scoring
, or at least part thereof, to agents, and using those
corrections to improve the speech recognition.

Technical gear head Is Spoken Communications “cheating” by using hidden agents,
making the speech recognition in telephone dialog-based systems look better
than it is? Cheating who?! Customers get better results. Speech recognition
processing can be improved by noting where agents have to help.

Maybe humans are being fooled into thinking speech
recognition is better than it is. We want to know computers won’t take over the
world, and that they are really dumb when trying to do things that we associate
strongly with being human. There is clearly a tendency in the general press to express
indirectly this visceral distaste for machines acting human. The usual statement
is something like, “speech recognition is still not there yet,” usually citing
a funny example of a recognition error. As if human speech recognition is
always infallible, and we never ask, “What?”

The idea of hidden agents in contact center automation is to
improve results, not impress the caller. The only legitimate issue is the same
as it is with SpinVox—is the solution cost-effective? Users may not be willing
to pay much for transcribing voicemail, so clearly voicemail-to-text services
must fully automate a large portion of messages. Some speech-to-text services
don’t use agents at all, giving them a competitive advantage in cost. In call
centers, the cost tradeoff is much different; the alternative to automation is
to pay agents.

Some customer service lines use only agents. For some caller
requests, these agents are doing what a computer might do quicker and better,
e.g., providing flight status or account balances. I hate it when humans do a
bad job of simulating computers!

Computers are never near the end of their shift, anxious to
go home. Spoken Communications’ agents don’t ever get to talk to customers and
are limited to computer-controlled options. If they get tired, they just
respond a bit more slowly.

The point is that there is a continuum between full
automation and one-on-one agents. The real issue is to meet caller needs in a
cost-effective manner, and hidden agents are simply one point on a spectrum of

More on this subject.

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