Speech Recognition: History & Fundamentals

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn about speech recognition and the history of progression throughout the years. You will also learn about the fundamentals of speech recognition. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz.

What Is Speech Recognition?

When you call customer service, you're often already frustrated about something. So when a robot on the other end of the line leads you through a series of questions, it's hard not to feel discouraged and inpatient. 'I'm sorry, I didn't get that,' says the robot on the other end of the line. You agitatedly roll your eyes and repeat what you said for the third time. Finally, in deep desperation you yell at the robot, 'operator!!' until you can finally speak to a REAL person.

This scenario is an example of how the technology of speech recognition is so widespread in today's society. Speech recognition, also known as automatic speech recognition (ASR), is a process where a human speaks to a computer and the computer understands, or recognizes, what is being said. Speech recognition has fascinated engineers, who have made major progressions in this technology since it's first inception in the early 1900s.

History of Speech Recognition

Speech recognition began with just recognition of one word or just a few syllables to recognition of an entire language! It has certainly come a long way since the early 1900s.

  • 1922- The first toy that used speech recognition, Radio Rex, was created. Radio Rex was a brown bulldog that came out of his doghouse when he heard his name.
  • 1928- Homer Dudley invents the vocoder (acronym for 'voice coder') at Bell Labs in New Jersey, which was a the first machine that that could generate human speech electronically when a person entered the words into a special keyboard.
  • 1939- Dudley's vocoder was presented at the World's Fair in the AT&T building in New York City.
  • 1950s- Other laboratories and scientists developed speech recognition machines that could recognize 10 syllables or 10 vowel sounds. Speech recognition software was gradually progressing more and more. Specifically, in 1952, Davis et. al built a machine called 'the Audrey system' that recognized speech (isolated digits) from a single speaker at Bell Labs.

The HY-2 Vocoder of 1961 was the last generation of channel vocoder created.
HY-2 Vocoder

  • 1962- IBM presented a machine at the World's Fair that could recognize 16 English words. It was called the Shoebox machine.
  • 1971- 1976- The Department of Defense saw the importance of speech recognition and funded the DARPA Speech Understanding Research program. It contributed funding to Carnegie Mellon University so that they could create Harpy, which was a machine that could understand 1011 words!
  • 1980s- The Hidden Markov Model was groundbreaking because it recognized that certain unknown sounds could be actual words.
  • 1990- The company, Dragon came out with software, Dragon Dictate, which was a diction software that could recognize human speech and dictate it into a word processing program. It was very expensive! About $9000! Now, one can download the Dragon dictation application on their smartphone for only a few dollars!
  • By 2000, speech recognition software was at about 80% accuracy.
  • Present day- Google and Apple are a couple of the companies at the forefront of speech recognition with speech recognition capability for Google searching, Google maps or with Siri on the iPhone. Google now says that their speech recognition accuracy is at about is at about 92% accuracy.

Things have definitely come along since Homer Dudley's vocoder, haven't they? Nowadays, speech recognition technology is omnipresent and used for countless purposes.

Uses of Speech Recognition

Speech recognition technology is ever-present and changing the ways that we do things in modern society. Here are some applications of speech recognition today:

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