Voice Wars: Siri vs. Google

We’re not yet living in the dystopian future of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story where the idea of leaving your home without your smartphone – or “apparat,” as it’s called in the novel – is unthinkable, but it certainly feels as though that time’s not far off.  One of the things that seems to be delaying that fateful day is the lagging capacity of speech recognition software to interpret (successfully) all our little nagging needs.

Of course, in this age of technological entitlement when we’re not even willing to wait longer than two seconds for a video to load, consumers not familiar with the technical challenges involved probably don’t understand that digital recognition of improvised speech is really, really hard to get right.  And whether in spite of those difficulties or because of them, it’s proved to be one of the more contested battlegrounds in the epic, ongoing tug-of-war between Google and Apple.

Thus far, Google appears to be winningIn a head-to-head contest between Siri and Google Voice search concerning the damage wrought by hurricane Sandy, for instance, Google answered the question correctly while Siri completely misunderstood it and gave (incorrect) stats for the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team.  In a similar test conducted by a different blogger, Siri confused hurricane Sandy with Steven Sande.  Even MacTech warns Apple that Siri is “way behind” in speech recognition technology.

It’s worth noting, however, that while Google outperforms Siri with voice search, it doesn’t actually do anything but search.  Google might be able to tell you the height of the Golden Gate Bridge faster than Siri, but it can’t set appointments, take dictation, or make a phone call.

Now, we tend to get caught up in the Google-Apple rivalry because it’s fun and generates a lot of press, but both Google Search and Siri might both be threatened by Microsoft’s recent strides in voice technology.  By exploiting what are called “deep neural networks,” not only did they recognize speech correctly, but they also managed to translate it into Mandarin Chinese.

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