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更新时间:2006/8/29
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Voice Recognition Becomes More Intelligent
语音识别系统智能化程度更高

These days searching for a number in a five centimetre thick telephone directory seems very old fashioned. Voice recognition systems are becoming more and more common and efficient: the best of them apparently recognise 49 out of every 50 words.

These devices save companies a huge amount of money. Stephen Evans in New York has been talking to the machines and to the men who design them.

I had a bit of a Basil Fawlty moment, the other day. I rang 411, the American directory enquiries which now uses a voice recognition system. I told the machine I wanted the number for "Harlem Auto Mall" and she -- for this machine had a female voice -- replied "Harlem Public School 154". No doubt like lots of people, I found myself ranting.

Machines, you see, have personalities, and banks, phone companies, railways and all kinds of alleged help-lines are spending a lot of money trying to find out what kinds of voices to give the machines that speak to us, the public, on their behalf.

Much of the research is conducted in a small room -- Room 325 in McClatchy Hall -- in Stanford University in California. It's the site of the drily-entitled but fascinating laboratory for "Communication between Humans and Inter-active Media", and the domain of a genial, enthusiastic professor called Clifford Nass who studies, quite simply, how people and machines get on, particularly when the machines talk to the people. 

In his lab, a stream of students and local people of all shapes and sizes undergo tests.  Voices of different ages and accents are played to them and their reactions noted:  "Did you trust that voice?" "Did this one have authority?" 

Generally, the tests show that people are less persuaded by female voices than by male ones (though people are more likely to be antagonised by a male voice). On the up side, male voiced machines are perceived to have energy and authority. One of the results of that, for example is that in Japan a stock-broking company used a female voice on its machine to give information on stocks and shares but then a male one to make the actual sale.

Now, in many parts of the world, when you hire a car, you get a navigation system -- a little electronic map on a screen with a machine voice. In America, it's a female voice (whom I like to call Gladys). She tells me, say, to make a right in two miles and -- I fancy, at least -- gets exasperated if I don't follow her directions: "Recalculating Route", she snaps, in her American English.

Now, in Germany when they tried a similar system, men reacted against being given directions by a female voice so it had to be taken off the market. Old people, by the way, take advice more readily from young people than from people their own age. 

Tone matters to drivers. Professor Nass is working on a system where the machine-voice changes according to how you address it. He's discovered that irritable drivers can calm down if the voice on the navigation system is subdued -- though, for some reason that he doesn't quite understand, calm drivers get wound up by subdued, low-key voices that don't vary in pitch. So the next task is to vary the navigation system's voice according to how grumpy you, the driver, are. If you sound aggressive to the machine, the machine will change tone to calm you down.

The technology is improving all the time. Basically, machines that speak first involve a human actor recording countless different words and syllables and a computer then re-assembling the sounds into coherent sentences, according to what it thinks you've said to it. These machines are getting better and better, better able to recognise more accents and variations.

They're also better able to talk back without sounding like a machine. It seems the androids are getting very good indeed. 

And companies like them a great deal. They even construct personas around the voices on the machines that speak for them. One of the Canadian telephone companies published a biography of the imaginary woman its machine was imitating.  She was Emily, a nice small-town girl who had a history degree and went back-packing round Asia after college. With some panache, a local radio host decided to call her up. Emily, of course, being a machine could only answer his chat with lines like "You're calling to check your account balance. Is that right?"

It may be, though, that the company has the last laugh. Emily is paid no wages and the telephone company reckons it saves three million dollars a year by employing her instead of a crowd of expensive, high-maintenance human-beings. There's no doubt that soon the androids will speak better than we do -- and they're much, much cheaper -- they're much, much cheaper -- much, much cheaper.


参考译文:

近来,在一本五厘米厚的电话簿里寻找电话号码似乎已经非常过时了。语音识别系统变得越来越常见、高效:其中最好的系统可以从每五十个单词里清楚地辨识出四十九个。

这些设备省去了公司一大笔钱。纽约的斯蒂芬·埃文斯一直在同这些机器及其设计者们进行交谈。

前几天我心情有些不爽。那天我拨打了号码411,这是美国电话查询体系,现在使用的是语音识别系统。我告诉机器我需要“哈莱姆汽车基地”的号码,她(因为这部机器发出的是女声)回答道“哈莱姆公立学校154”。毫无疑问,同很多人一样我发现我开始咆哮了。

正如大家所看到的那样,这些机器都具有人的特性,而银行、电话公司、铁路系统以及各种所谓的帮助热线正在投下大笔的金钱,试图找出将各种声音输入到代表他们跟我们说话的机器里。

大部分研究工作都在加州斯坦福大学的一间小房间——麦克克莱契大厅325室进行。这个场所有个干巴巴的称号——“人机对话”实验室,但它却是一家令人神往的实验室,同时也是一位亲切而富有激情的教授的领地。他叫克利福德·纳斯,其研究内容很简单,就是研究人与机器怎样相处,特别是当机器同人们交谈时怎样进行相处。

在他的实验室里,有一群学生和形象各异的当地人在进行实验。向这些人播放着由不同年龄和口音发出的声音,并对他们的反应做好如下记录:“你信任这个声音吗?”或者“这个声音有权威性吗?”

一般而言,实验显示男性声音比女性声音更具有说服力(尽管男性声音更容易招致敌对)。此外人们认为男性发音的机器具有力量和权威性。这些结论实际运用的一个实例就是日本的股票经纪公司使用女性声音机器来提供股票和股份信息,而进行实际销售时则使用男性声音机器。

目前在世界的许多地方,你在租用汽车时都会获得一个导航系统,它是显示在屏幕上的一张小型电子地图,可以发出机器声音。在美国,这是一个女性声音(我喜欢将她叫做格拉迪斯)。比如她会告诉我在两公里的地方向右转,而如果我没有遵从她的指示,她就会发怒(至少我是这么认为的):“重新计算路线”,她用美式英语厉声说道。

目前在德国,他们试用了一种类似的系统,而男性则反对使用女性声音来提供方向信息,因此该系统不得不退出市场。顺便提一下,老年人更容易接受年轻人的建议,而不是那些与他们一样大年纪的人。

语调对于司机而言很重要。纳斯教授正在研究一种系统,该系统的机器声音可以根据人对其发话的方式发生改变。他发现如果导航系统的声音很柔和,易怒的司机则能平静下来;但是出于某些他不能理解的原因,平静的司机可能因为没有音调变化的柔和、低调声音而变得容易激动。因此下一步任务就是根据司机的脾气暴躁程度来改变导航系统的声音。如果你的声音在机器听来具有挑衅的味道,机器就会改变语调使你平静下来。

科技始终在向前发展。从根本上而言,说话机器首先需要人类演员对不同的单词和音节进行录音,然后计算机根据它认为你对其所说的话语将这些声音重组成连贯的句子。这些机器正变得越来越强,强大到可以识别出更多的口音和变调。

它们也足够好到回话的声音听起来不像是由机器发出来的。似乎机器人确实已经变得很人性化了。

而公司也非常钟意它们。他们甚至根据为其发言的机器声音塑造了外表。加拿大的一家电话公司发表了一名虚构女子的传记,目前这名女子正由该家公司的机器模仿。她叫艾米丽,是名来自小镇的好女孩。她拥有历史学位,在亚洲读完大学之后就打着背包回国了。带着一些炫耀的色彩,当地一家广播台的男主播决定打电话给她。当然作为一台机器艾米丽只能对他的谈话回以类似这样的对白:“您打电话来是要核对你的账户结余,对吗?”

不管怎样,这家公司可能会赢得最后的胜利。由于不用向艾米丽支付任何薪资,该家电话公司估计每年能省下三百万美元的费用,因为有了她就不用雇用一群昂贵的、高生活费的人类。毫无疑问不久之后机器人们会比我们说得更棒,而且它们更便宜——非常非常便宜。

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