Tag Archives: text-to-speech

The first time ever someone ordered a pizza with a computer!

23 Jan

In 1974 Donald Sherman, whose speech was limited by a neurological disorder called Moebius Syndrome, used a new-fangled device designed by John Eulenberg to dial up a pizzeria. The first call went to Dominos, which hung up. They were apparently too busy becoming a behemoth. Mercifully, a humane pizzeria – Mr. Mike’s – took the call, and history was made. It all plays out below, and we hope that Mr. Mike’s is still thriving all these years later….” (Smithsonian.com Blog)

Speech synthesis on this computer was rather slow, and it also apparently required “Yes/No” questions to just simply generate a “Yes” or a “No” too. Still, it could also synthesize other phrases, such as the pizza toppings (pepperoni and mushrooms, salami ...), the complex delivery address (the Michigan State Computer Science Department), as well as the contact number for callback. So not bad at all!

I was touched by the patience and kindness of the pizza place employee. He would patiently wait for up to 5 seconds for any answer, which must have been unnerving in itself! And now he is part of History! Good on him!! And well done to the Michigan State University‘s Artificial Language Laboratory and Dr. John Eulenberg!


A speech recognition user interface works when it … disappears!

25 Oct

Today is a big day for me! I’m finally getting to meet in person one of the Coryphées of the VUI Design World (even though as far as I know he’s not a ballet dancer), Bruce Balentine of the Enterprise Integration Group (EIG).  Bruce is the author of one of the best books ever written on IVR / Speech applications / Voice User Interface Design, It’s Better to Be a Good Machine Than a Bad Person – Speech Recognition and Other Exotic User Interfaces at the Twilight of the Jetsonian Age.

Apart from the ingenuity of the title itself, encapsulating the golden rule of good user experience / usability design, you can readily see to what great lengths Bruce has gone to serve his pearls of design wisdom in a most humourous and utterly witty way. This doesn’t in any way decrease in the least the importance, relevance and truthfulness of his observations and recommendations. Bruce is a veteran designer and he has seen it all before, from the excitement and optimism to the disappointment and pessimism, to the final destination, design realism:

First we tried to make them human. Now it’s time to make them work 

To get a flavour of the type of UX design advice and messages conveyed in the book, here’s an extract from Chapter  132: Will Speech Technology Ever Work? (pp. 393-395 in my 2007 edition):

In closing, I must ask the question. Will it ever work? And, of course, the answer is, yes. Speech recognition—and its related technologies (e.g., speaker verification, text-to-speech, audio indexing, speech data mining, dictation) will work. Indeed they already do. They will fill their respective application niches almost completely. And, in fact, the majority will do so quite soon. What will change is the definition of “work”.

Speech recognition is primarily a user interface technology*. As such, it works when it disappears. It’s really that simple. When the users are not thinking about the user interface, but instead are accomplishing the task to which they are connected by the user interface, then and only then can the interface be said to be “working.” We have to stay on message with this fundamental fact if we are ever to succeed at bringing speech to the performance level where we can legitimately claim that it “works.”

True words!!! As a bonus,  Leslie Degler’s illustrations perfectly complement and enhance the messages conveyed in the text, once again in the wittiest and most original manner.  Buy this book ASAP! After all, if you don’t agree with its theses, you can always return it. All you need to do is:

Write out in longhand, on a separate page, “I,” and add your name, “agree that there’s not a chance in Hell any refund will ever come of this claim.” Label this statement as your “declaration.”  

After you have received your refund, we’ll call you with an outbound IVR that asks you several hundred thought-provoking questions about your customer experience. We value your opinion—please give us your most honest and spontaneous responses. We’ll do our best to recognize them

It says it all really! 🙂

To date, I have only met Bruce virtually, through Skype calls and the Creative Speech Technology Network (CreST) of which we are both members, and I can already tell he is a very funny, witty, creative (musical!),  interesting, as well as intelligent person. So I can’t wait to meet him in person later today and hear some more fascinating stories and hilarious anecdotes from the world of speech recognition application design, voice interface usability and technology abuse!


I went (to the dinner with Bruce) and (was) conquered by the brilliance and witticism of the man! I got my long-awaited autograph in his book too, as I can now prove!