Google Voice: ‘Just Calling to See if You’re Gay’

I’m a big fan of Google Voice and am generally very pleased with the free service, but its speech to text function is really starting to bother me. When callers leave a voicemail on my Google Voice number, their messages are automatically transcribed and sent to my Gmail account and mobile phones. The other day I got an unusual transcribed message from my dad.

It read:

“Hey there, How you doing. I’m just calling to see if you’re gay. Take care.”

For a split second I thought my dad may be losing his mind, or forgotten that I got married to my wife almost five years ago. And come on Dad…if you did have any such personal questions, you could at least ask me in person…

A second later I remembered that this wasn’t a normal text, but a Google Voice transcription. I launched GV Connect on my iPhone 4 and listened to the message, which is embedded below.

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My dad wasn’t questioning my sexual orientation. He was simply asking if I got my keys to our new house yet. Google transcribed ‘you got your key’ to ‘you’re gay.’

I’m not sure why Google Voice speech to text is so bad while other systems, such as Nuance’s mobile apps are so good. Both systems don’t require training.

This voicemail/text mixup was completely harmless since it was between my dad and I, but this could’ve been an embarrassing situation if a message for one of his clients (Dad’s a contractor) were transcribed like this. We live in San Francisco, where many of our neighbors, co-workers and friends are openly gay. It’s nothing unusual, but it’s impolite to ask about someone’s sexual orientation so casually.

My father stopped using Google Voice after getting frustrated with Google’s transcriptions and I’m sure he’s not alone. A message left for him a while back read:

“I hope you having a wonderful weekend. Yeah, I’ll talk to you later dick suck a cellphone number, 707####### Thank you. Bye bye.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Google really needs to blacklist some words and phrases, hiding them unless they’re darn sure the caller actually said them. Maybe Google can’t do this with due to expense or using its own technology. They should license the technology from someone like Nuance and pass the cost onto heavy Google Voice users as a premium option.

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Whatever the solution is, Google needs to do something here before it keeps embarrassing itself and its users.

Comments

  1. GoodThings2Life says

    My Exchange 2010 server does the same thing with voicemails deposited in our mailboxes… often with very humorous results. I agree that some are better than others– both transcriptions and services– but I have always told my users, “It’s only meant to help give you an idea of what the message is and provide caller ID information… beyond that, I wouldn’t depend on it for critical information relay.” It is, afterall, why they still give you the actual audio, right?

  2. Anonymous says

    Fair warning: next time I get your voice mail, I will ask this question (to which you’ll probably ask “why is Sumocat asking if I got my key?”). :P

  3. Corinne says

    This is pretty darn hilarious. I don’t think the transcriptions have ever been this bad, but they are bad. They always get my name as Karen, something that really annoys me.

    I can usually guess at the substance, so I don’t have to listen to the actual message, but with GV Mobile + on the iphone, it’s not that bad anymore.

  4. Guest says

    This is a pretty lame whine-blog. I also get imperfect transcriptions, big deal! When it does work I get the message without having to call into VM. When it doesn’t, I do it the old fashioned way and call my VM.

    You can always disable the free transcription service by going to Settings > Voicemail & Text and uncheck the box that says “Transcribe Voicemails”. Then you can call in to your VM every time to find out what the message is.

    GV and its transcriptions are what they are… free and not perfect. If you, your dad and his clients understand that they might not be so easily offended.

  5. Chrisphickie says

    Reminds me of the original Apple Newton in it’s early days (as harpooned in many places including Doonesbury)

  6. mainrotor says

    I thought part of Google’s grand plan was to collect millions of hours of voice samples through GV and 411-GOOG in order to enhance their voice-related services. But the GV transcriptions seem to be getting worse, not better. I’ve got Vonage voicemail transcriptions and those are amazingly error-free.

    I appreciate that GV is free, but the level of transcription is ludicrous. Google – make it work and I’d consider paying for a Pro version of GV.

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