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SpinVox "Recognition" Is Often Expensive Human Transcription 226

An anonymous reader writes "SpinVox offers to convert voice messages to text using a system called D2 or 'the Brain.' According to BBC News, said 'Brain' is often of the old-fashioned kind: SpinVox is sending private voice messages to South Africa, the Philippines, and maybe Egypt to be typed by people in a call centre, despite being registered as keeping all private data inside Europe and claiming that the text is somehow anonymised. Insiders say they transcribed 'love messages, secret messages' and everything else from beginning to end, and the company is being bled dry by the cost: SpinVox has been locked out of one of their data centers over a payment dispute. SpinVox refuses to comment further on details — but according to their web page, they're 'enabling the Speech 3.0, Voice 3.0, and Business 3.0 markets,' whatever that means."
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SpinVox "Recognition" Is Often Expensive Human Transcription

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  • O(human) (Score:5, Funny)

    by NovaX81 ( 1136085 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @06:55PM (#28801453) Homepage
    Best algorithm, ever.
  • Speech 3.0 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Wingman 5 ( 551897 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @06:59PM (#28801487)

    Now with 20% more vowels!

    • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:11PM (#28801613)

      Now with 20% more vowels!

      So it's Japanese? :-)

      • by treeves ( 963993 )
    • Speech 3.0: 50% more participants!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )

        Speech 3.0: 50% more hype.

        Seriously. I'm just waiting for "Web 3.0. For everyone that got fed up with Web 2.0 and wants more of everything."

        Web 2.0 was "You make the content, we make the profit".

        Web 3.0 will be "We also make you host the content through P2P, and we'd launch it, we haven't figured out how to make profit of it, though".

    • by godrik ( 1287354 )
      I would have said 20% more useless stuff (from the web2.0 experience)
    • With 20 percent more consonants, it would certainly be some slavic languate. Most likely Czech.

      Seriously. A language that uses N and R as a substitute for vowels has issues.

  • Business 3.0? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 )

    We're not even done with Bubble 2.0 yet!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      We're already on Bubble 4.0. The first bubble was Goldman Sachs orchestration of the dot-com bubble (selling worthless websites to stock market speculators). The second was the mortgage bubble. Then Goldman Sachs orchestrated the oil bubble of 2008, and now they're creating another bubble built on money borrowed from China (aka the bailout bubble) which is not real production, but fiat.

      That's 4.

      So invest now in the market. Thanks to Goldman and their buds in the treasury/central bank (former GS employe

      • Re:Business 3.0? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:20PM (#28801687)

        When we repealed the (very good) legislation enacted in response to the Great Depression, we restore to market to its natural boom-bust cycle. We'll keep going through these periods until we restore the safeguards that our great-grandparents wisely created. Even without the dubious benefits of computer models and Chicago economics, these people gave us 50 years of prosperity that we've managed to wreck in a decade. Shouldn't we stop arrogantly assuming that they were wrong, we are right, and accept that we might need regulation after all?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bendodge ( 998616 )
          We need some regulation. The item we don't need that you forgot is subsidies.
        • Economic Dogmas (Score:4, Informative)

          by copponex ( 13876 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @10:15PM (#28802931) Homepage

          The real problem is that people have lost their heads in the United States. The return of evangelicals has led to an atmosphere that is literally opposed to science. So, you get exactly what you expect. Opinions that are based on anecdote and wish thinking instead of data. The reason science works is because you start with the assumption that you don't know something until you can prove that you probably know it, with repeatable, verifiable results. When you start trusting the word of pill junkies [rushlimbaugh.com] and homophobic college dropouts [hannity.com] versus the entire scientific community and their reams of data, get ready for some wide-reaching and catastrophic fuckups.

          Canada kept the rules. The Canadian banking system is still the most sound. Every time we take cops off the financial beat, we end up with a banking crisis. These realities can be arrived at by simply reading about the last 30 years of panics, and the hundred years of bank panics that existed before the FDIC and sensible Great Depression legislation.

          But leave it to the same fuckers from Harvard, who apparently can't even manage a college trust [vanityfair.com] without running it into the ground.

          The pro-market propaganda will continue, and probably destroy our economy beyond repair. And then some wise ass will say that it shows that the market does work, by wiping itself out.

          • Re:Economic Dogmas (Score:4, Insightful)

            by binkzz ( 779594 ) on Friday July 24, 2009 @03:53AM (#28804477) Journal
            I don't quite see how you can blame this on Evangelics, whether they're real Evangelics or just by name.

            The cause of economic downfall is almost always plain greed.
          • Canada kept the rules. The Canadian banking system is still the most sound.

            Think about what does a "sound banking system" actually means. It means that old money stays that way. It means that generation after generation, the same banks gain more and more power and get to call more and more of the agenda. Stable banking systems are good for people who are already wealthy and powerful. Wiping out unwisely invested wealth punishes the greedy and gives the have-nots a new opportunity.

            But leave it to the same

        • by mgblst ( 80109 )

          The problem is when we have this regulation, but other countries don't. It is all part of living in a global economy. If you hobble your own companies, then global companies grow bigger and the dominate.

      • hate GS much? sell in 2003, do you have a time machine??!?!
  • by Ponga ( 934481 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:00PM (#28801499)
    Seriously. If their target market is English speakers and the people doing the translating don't speak English as their primary language... dude. Seriously. Nevermind the privacy issues here...
  • That's awful.
    By the way I'm releasing a new text-to-speech service; the algorithm makes for a very smooth speech. It does however have a little bit of an accent.
  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:13PM (#28801625)

    From their PDF:

    Speech 3.0: Fully-hosted, commercial strength SLAs, proven scale and reliability - no CapEx. Scales on demand to 150m capacity

    So Speech 3.0 provides 150 meters of service-level agreements with no experience-point cap.

    Voice 3.0: Superior and proven range of voice products. We repeatedly deliver great, mass-market experiences with our expertise in marketing and management of all lifecycle stages.

    Voice 3.0 takes you from larva, through pupa, all the way to butterfly, and then you die and get eaten.

    Business 3.0: Mature yet flexible business models - designed to adapt to the dynamics of service brands we partner with, from on-demand to full lifecycle revenue strategies

    Business 3.0 is apparently a flexible business model where they interact with their partners. So that's new I guess, no one has thought of that yet. It's also where people who write marketing buzzwords go to die.

  • The speeck recognition people have broken their promises for several decades now. Using humans is still the only working speaker-independent way to do it.

    What I find surprising is that it is apparently not cost effective. Here is an alternate approach: Have people transcribe it, but let them look at "pictures" as reward. Seems to be working well in breaking catchpas, so why not for this?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by forkazoo ( 138186 )

      The speeck recognition people have broken their promises for several decades now. Using humans is still the only working speaker-independent way to do it.

      Okay, humans never screw up their speeck recognition, but that doesn't guarantee that the speeck is correctly transcribed.

  • by bheer ( 633842 ) <rbheer@@@gmail...com> on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:16PM (#28801653)

    Spinvox has a denial here [guardian.co.uk], claiming this is a case of disgruntled employees spreading falsehoods.

    Of course one'd expect them to deny it, but they've just upped the stakes. They would be in violation of UK privacy laws *and* lying through their teeth if this denial is false.

    • by zonky ( 1153039 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @10:07PM (#28802887)
      Well, apparently they're disgruntled because allegedly they're getting private medical treatment denied because the premium's are not being paid, and they've been asked to salary for 2 months not as cash, but as share options.
    • That's akin to saying someone who said he didn't kill someone could be due for murder AND contempt. Do you really care they care for the minuscle transgression if they're found guilty of the grave crime?

      • by bheer ( 633842 )

        I have had to work with UK privacy laws before, and trust me, violating them [ed.ac.uk] is nothing like murder (see point #1 in the link). It's more like a slap on the wrists and a small fine. Lying and prolonging the media coverage, OTOH, means more customers get to find out that you're lying scumbags.

        Which is why IMHO Spinvox is indeed innocent (and is the victim of disgruntled employees) or an especially brazen scumbag.

    • by VShael ( 62735 )

      They would be in violation of UK privacy laws *and* lying through their teeth if this denial is false.

      Wow. Maybe they should consider standing for Parliament.

  • by SomeJoel ( 1061138 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:17PM (#28801661)
    That's nothing, I just bought an application that converts my speech to text. Read that back to me. I said, read that back to me. God damn it, what the hell is wrong with this thing. Stupid blinking light, what the hell is that supposed to mean? This is... oh here we go. No, don't send
  • They could go a step further, using the strategy used to crack captchas [boingboing.net], putting humans to "solve" the problem of telling what is being said in a sound file to be able to access the next part of a porn image or another kind of non economical incentive. Don't have to be the full message, just parts between pauses or things like that
  • Nothing new here (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ExtraT ( 704420 )

    Human transcription performed on industrial scale by non-native speakers is nothing new. For example, medical imaging texts are typed up by Cheap Foreign Labour from voice messages recorded by doctors.
    So remember this next time you read the analysis of your expensive MRI test. ;)

    • by kriston ( 7886 )

      Yeah, I mean you can see Benjamin Rand speaking into a medical transciption device as he modifies his will to include Peter Sellers' Chaunce the Gardener in the movie "Being There."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    every problem looks like a nail.

    When all you have is six billion, renewable fueled, autonomous, self replicating, self housing, self programing, hundred billion node neural networks...
    who the fuck needs an AI for voice recognition?

  • Bender vs Apu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @08:02PM (#28802085) Homepage Journal

    Losing your job to Bender: technological progress.

    Losing your job to Apu: outrage.

    But really, what's the difference? A service is a service. It's all progress .. sort of.

    • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @08:21PM (#28802235)

      bender does the job perfectly over and over for a lower cost.

      Apu does a poor job, frequently making mistakes to the point he isn't cheaper in the long run.

      THAT is where the outrage comes from.

      • bender does the job perfectly over and over for a lower cost.

        You obviously haven't seen bender work.

      • Re:Bender vs Apu (Score:4, Informative)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @08:52PM (#28802465)

        I call Raciest on you.

        You must not have worked with Indians before, they are just as good if not better then most American Workers, today.
        Especially if you have a good management team who can talk the language and know the culture. Sure you will come up a couple of bad eggs or some horror stories. But really you can get those same stories from any group of people. However I find them in general to be very motivated workers and rather quite intelligent and willing to learn new things. They became the american ideal while we have gotten fat lazy and feeling entitled.

        The Robot will not do the job perfectly, hence the completive advantage of SpinBox humans can translate human speech better then a computer can. Robots have a lot of hidden costs as well. You change your process you need a full set of new robots and technology. Or you spend a lot of money for more general use robots which preform slower.

        The cost of outsourcing isn't as cheap as saying well and American gets paid $25 an hour while an Indian gets paid $5 so it is 5 times cheaper working with India. There is extra management of working with people in different areas and other costs however this is a management issue which can be optimized to work.

        I am sure if the work was being outsourced to a country were people speak the same language and look and have a similar culture to us and lighter skin, then there would be less of an outrage. You may deny that fact, and you may believe your denial. However I bet if you honestly looked in yourself you will realize most of the outrage with Indian workers is that they are not you race of people.

        Outsourcing to India has many benefits besides cost being halfway around the world allows 24 hour operations. In essence doubling your output. And they are hard workers who do good quality work. Now if your management is stupid then you may get bad results but that is true anywhere.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by linzeal ( 197905 )
          There are some fucking idiots in India too but really the quality is about the same as the states per individual and a crap shoot on a company that has no track record. I've had good experience in India too and I'm Buddhist so I greatly respect the Indian culture and peoples, but when I've had a bad experience in India it was like getting skullfucked with a hot poker, mostly because the Indians were far more racist than anyone on my team back in the states and talked to us like we were fucking children, li
      • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
        Exterminate all humans and have a utopia run by robots. Great Success! Computers and robots *never* make mistakes.
      • If that is the case, then the jobs will come flooding back in the long run anyway. So alls well that ends well.

    • Losing your job to Bender: technological progress.

      If you lost your job to Bender it means you're even lazier then the guy who accept packages at the moon amusement park

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      You are missing the point. Bender stays in the EU, so he's bound by the laws of the EU. Moreover, it's not probable for Bender to go off and steal your data. Okay, he might accidentally burp it all up. But he wouldn't go use the information to extort you. (Well, he would. But I mean a computer wouldn't.) Apu might go and Nigerian spam your ass using the information you were lead to believe was kept highly confidential.

      Also, the idea of having a robot transcribe your love messages is far more acceptable to m

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Jedi Alec ( 258881 )

        Also, the idea of having a robot transcribe your love messages is far more acceptable to many than having a guy listen to your deepest thoughts and giggling while doing so. Who knows? He might even put a few jokes in there.

        Heck, you can just see it...that's movie material right there.

        Spinvox employee #1 to Spinvox employee #2: "Oh man, will you look at this? How is this guy ever expecting to get laid when this is how he tries to woo a woman?"

        Spinvox employee #2 to Spinvox employee #1: "Well, we did just get

      • We should use another robot but Bender as the analogy here. He just doesn't fit. Bender WOULD steal your data, he WOULD use it to extort you, and on top of it all he WOULD spam your ass to death.

  • If I can't understand a Geordie, let alone a god damn American, how the fuck will a computer, I doubt the Africans/Asians (who despite above claims probably speak the queens English a damn sight better than most of you guys (assuming slashdot is populated by gorram Americans)) will get it spot on, but their internal algorithms have had a data set of at least 18 years to train on, this beats any automated system!. Voice recognition* has its places (e.g the iPhone does it right), but transcription is not one

  • they dont even need to have speech recognition, they just need to recognize when a few word is spoken and have people listen to individual words.

  • This has parallels with the main premise of Sleep Dealer http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0804529/ [imdb.com]

    A theme in the film is Virtual Labor - robots of the future will really be remotely operated by cheap overseas labor. SpinVox is doing similar kind of things, but unlike Mechanical Turk has the factore of outsourcing to the low-wage regions.
  • What about Google Voice transciption? It seems to do such a good job I always suspected it was Google's private version of Amazon Mechanical Turk.

  • I've been wondering about "image ATMs", which accept checks for deposit, imaging them. I've had one correctly accept a check with the amount handwritten in cursive. I suspect that at least the hard cases are being referred to humans for recognition.

  • Official response (Score:3, Informative)

    by quentez ( 1604639 ) on Friday July 24, 2009 @02:35AM (#28804139)
    There was an official response to those accusations : http://blog.spinvox.com/ [spinvox.com] It's quite interesting.
  • You guys do know that many, many South African's speak English as their first language, right ?

    Most South Africans I know speak better English with fewer weird accents than the UK population. I've never had to try and understand what is meant by 'Arwight mate, innit' while talking to a saffa :)

  • I've used SpinVox for years at it was pretty obvious to me that it was a person doing the work - it was far too good. Friends went through a stage of sending increasingly bizarre messages to see if I would get something sensible and I generally did.

The trouble with money is it costs too much!