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7/15/2008
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Google Gadget Tries To Transcribe What Politicians Say

The Google Elections Video Search gadget uses speech recognition to transcribed and index speeches by politicians and others.

As part of its ongoing effort to promote YouTube as a platform for politics, Google on Monday made a new iGoogle gadget available to help Google users search through election-related video.

"Today, the Google speech team (part of Google Research) is launching the Google Elections Video Search gadget, our modest contribution to the electoral process," said Google product managers Arnaud Sahuguet and Ari Bezman in a blog post. "With the help of our speech recognition technologies, videos from YouTube's Politicians channels are automatically transcribed from speech to text and indexed. Using the gadget you can search not only the titles and descriptions of the videos, but also their spoken content. Additionally, since speech recognition tells us exactly when words are spoken in the video, you can jump right to the most relevant parts of the videos you find."

Although Google's video search gadget does a fine job identifying when words are spoken, video watchers who skip forward in search of specific phrases may not find quite what Google says is there. As Sahuguet and Bezman acknowledge in their post, speech recognition isn't 100% accurate because "speech recognition is a difficult problem that hasn't yet been completely solved."

For example, a search for the word "experience," a popular one among presidential candidates and political observers this election cycle, returns 10 results in actor Robert DeNiro's endorsement several months ago of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

For one of the 10 detected instances of the word, Google's gadget transcribes the following phrase that occurs about two minutes into the speech: "...backs rooms of power it an experience of the arrogance of lead to ..."

But DeNiro's speech hammers the word "inexperience" rather than "experience." The actor uses it to highlight the contrast between Obama and the experience that produced the Bush administration. What DeNiro really said at the two-minute mark of his speech is: "... His inexperience at making secret deals in the back rooms of power. His inexperience in the arrogance that led to the destruction of America's international stature. "

"Experience, inexperience, what's the difference?" one might ask. Fair enough.

Google's gadget works pretty well, to be sure. It's certainly better than nothing. But the gadget's speech recognition needs to be fact checked, just like any political messenger.

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