April 14, 2008
Computer versus human
I think I tend to take my brain for granted. And I don't really mean my brain in particular, but brains in general.
My business develops speech recognition applications. We're not the speech scientists figuring out how to recognize sounds as words, but we take their engines and then build applications on top of them. Given a limited domain, we can build applications that really do an amazing job of interpreting what a person is saying. When you encounter a "bad" application, it's usually the result of a designer who's tried to push the technology too far, hasn't given enough consideration to what we call "human factors" or they haven't done a good enough job integrating the speech recognition with the back end systems that retrieve whatever information you are looking for at the moment.
My big sister sent me an email that had the following passage in it, and it reminded me just how amazing our brains are at pattern matching. I guess software could be written that would be able to interpret the text accurately (it almost makes me want to go download Visual Studio and take a shot at it) but to think that our brains can do this without much effort is pretty cool. I believe we're still a long way away from a computer being as "smart" as a human.
Can you read this?
I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! If you can raed this psas it on !!
Now sometimes this pattern matching ability gets us in trouble. In the same email was this little test . . .
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTI
FIC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS...
Now go back and count how many times the letter 'F' appears. (Go on, I'll wait for you to count.)
The answer is six. I'm sure I've seen this before, but it still took a couple of tries to get it right, thanks I imagine to the amazing pattern matcher in my brain.
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Being the early adopter geek that I am, I bought a couple of versions of Apple's Newton back in the mid-90's. While most people completely poo-pooed the Newton for its poor handwriting recognition... I was amazed by it. Yup, you would never buy a keyboard that was 93% accurate. But, hey, I can't read 93% of my own writing. So many times I would scrawl out a note which the Newton nailed... and I absolutely had NO clue what I had just written looking at it.
So much of what we audibly understand comes from context... and not just context of the literal spoken words. Context from who is saying it, knowing what our last conversation was (a hour, week or month ago), the time of day, the weather... so much info that the poor Gold Systems Device does not have the privilege of knowing ;-)
I'm a geek.. and I don't know how the hell you guys do it, Terry!
Posted by: Jim Pollock | Apr 14, 2008 7:02:57 PM
I lvoe stfuf lkie tihs.
Posted by: Carmin | Apr 15, 2008 5:11:47 AM