Accents and Speech Recognition

Anyone who’s ever used Siri has likely experienced the frustration of not being understood. There’s a fundamental – almost existential – panic that surfaces when someone else doesn’t know what you’re saying.

It’s an even bigger problem for people with accents other than “General American English”[1]. Voice interfaces struggle with accents, from regional American accents to foreign-accented speech. But why?

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Towards a Multi-Dimensional Taxonomy

People like to label things.

One of the best-known examples of a classification scheme is our biological taxonomy, which is meant to show the relationships of different organisms to each other. But no taxonomy is set in stone; even our biological taxonomy has undergone many changes in the last century.

This got me thinking: how does our method for classifying organisms work? And what’s the point of a taxonomy, anyway[1]?

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Gaze and Interaction

Recently, while taking care of my parents’ dog (see Figure 1 below), I observed an interesting phenomenon: whenever Sally (the dog) was thirsty, she would walk over to her empty water bowl, peer into it, then stare pointedly back at me, as if to say: what gives?

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I refilled the water bowl and she lapped it up eagerly. It struck me that this was Sally’s way of “requesting” water. No language was involved, but she successfully communicated her desire (“more water”) through an action[1], and I interpreted this action correctly and acted accordingly (filling the water bowl).

So how does this work?

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Discovering systematicity (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 3)

Language is mostly arbitrary, but there are patterns of systematicity both within and across languages. As discussed previously, arbitrariness and systematicity seem to play unique roles in improving both the learnability and communicative utility of a language.

So how can we, as researchers, quantify the degree of arbitrariness and systematicity in a language? And how can we discover these trends automatically?

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