Microsoft Speech Recognition Achieves ‘Human Parity’

microsoft speech recognition artificial intelligence
Microsoft claims its new speech recognition software has reached parity with humans but still isn't perfect. Microsoft/ YouTube

A “historic” landmark in artificial intelligence research has been reached by Microsoft, which has announced a new speech recognition technology that it claims is the first to be on par with humans.

Details of the software were published this week in a paper titled ‘Achieving Human Parity in Conversational Speech Recognition,’ authored by engineers at Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research.

“We’ve reached human parity,” said Xuedong Huang, Microsoft’s chief speech scientist. “This is a historic achievement.”

Harry Shum, who heads the Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research group, added: “Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we could have achieved this. I just wouldn’t have thought it would be possible.”

According to the paper, the speech recognition system makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists. While it is the first time a computer has recorded a word error rate lower than a human, it is still far from perfect.

More work is needed to improve the system in real-life settings, such as places where there is a lot of background noise. Research into identifying individual speakers when multiple people are talking is also a part of longer-term research efforts.

It is hoped the breakthrough can be used in teaching computers to not just recognize but also understand spoken words.This would give the technology the ability to answer questions or take actions based on what it is told, though the researchers warn this could still be a way off.

Shum said: “It will be much longer, much further down the road until computers can understand the real meaning of what’s being said or shown.”