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Google is seeking thick Scottish accents

Reuters/David Moir
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“You ever tried voice recognition technology?” asks Scottish comedian Iain Connell in a now famous button-free elevator scene mocking a common problem.

“They don’t do Scottish accents.”

Google, aware of how the rolled “r” and thick tones of Scottish accents baffle voice recognition software, feels his pain. And the company is trying to do something about it.

The tech giant is on the hunt for people with a Scottish accent to record a set of phrases to help improve its speech recognition software. An employee from speech technology company Appen—which has been contracted by Google—started the search by posting on Reddit, in hopes of finding Scots who will record their voices in return for £27 ($36). The task, which takes up to three hours, involves participants recording phrases such as “Indy now” or “Google, what’s the time?”

(Update: The original Reddit post has now been removed, but a screenshot lives here. The redditor behind it told Quartz that he was not told if the client was in fact Google, but assumed it was because of the phrases in the data sets provided.)

Kids under 16 can also submit recordings—reading from a shorter, 45-minute script—for a fee of £30. Quartz contacted Google, but the company was unavailable for comment. 

The Scottish accent’s incompatibility with modern speech recognition systems has been well documented. When the iPhone 4S launched in 2011, its voice recognition software Siri was baffled by the Scottish burr. In this clip, the simple command “create a reminder” proved just too much for Siri:

Voice recognition software’s trouble recognizing diverse accents has also been the source of a bigger debate around access to technology. ”We need to prevent a ‘speech divide,’ a class of people for whom speech technologies work well and another for whom they don’t,” Marsal Gavaldà, head of machine intelligence at messaging app Yik Yak, told Fusion last year. “You’re putting those people at a disadvantage.”

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