Hold On, We're Going Home
Ongoing battle over banned words looms over post-pandemic voice/AI chapter to come
“In approaching this album I was like man, it would be great if we had a record that was played at weddings in 10 years or that people that are away from their families in the Armed Forces could listen to.
Something that just has timeless writing, timeless melody.”
These were Drake’s comments in 2013 in an interview to MTV News, prior to Hold On, We’re Going Home going on to become a Billboard #1 hit and the notoriously-hard-to-please Pitchfork Media’s best song of that year, from any genre.
You ever met a professional Scrabble player?
And it’s not so much that they know more words than you, it’s that they know VASTLY more words than you.
They know alternate spellings. Every obscure secondary definition.
They are well-studied masters of their domain.
Now, in addition to maintaining this level of commitment to their craft, they now have to contend with the myriad, ever-evolving lunacies of the politically correct mob.
This recent article from the Washington Post describes the problem to some degree, describing a furor over words included in popular game Typeshift and how Scrabble has had an ongoing battle over what words to include and exclude.
Clearly, we’ve moved on from a global pandemic if this type of thing is making news. Fail to give these arguments adequate oxygen, and accusations of “privilege” start flying quicker than garbage thrown on the field at an SEC football game that doesn’t go the home team’s way.
But let’s assume telling decades-long expert players of word games what words they are, and are not, allowed to spell out on a game board is a valid use of time.
Conversational AI and voice technology companies are, whether they know it or not, in the business of words.
Conversational designers think, day in and day out, about how voice assistants and nascent AIs will respond to each and every particular query a user may have.
Not just simple responses, but tone, diction, inflection, and more go into these lines of work.
Meanwhile, the ethics and principles guiding these designers in their work is the purview of corporate executives.
This battling over words, and conflict over culture, ultimately bottom-lines as nothing more than an additional cost for voice/AI companies.
The publishing industry provides a valuable glimpse into what this looks like.
For years now, larger publishers have employed what are known as sensitivity readers: people whose entire job is to read the work of professional authors, and with authority that would shock objective observers, strike down words, paragraphs, chapters, characters, or entire plotlines that could be “problematic.”
This goes every bit as well as you think it would.
Voice assistants have come to impact our daily lives. Our children interact with them as if second nature. Their role will only continue to grow.
I have long said the greatest threat to the growth and evolution of voice technology, and correspondingly the conversational AI that powers it, is politics.
Only the juggernauts like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple can afford to contemplate how to two-step to the discordant music of the mob.
Fast-moving startups have neither the time nor the resources to pay attention to any of that, and any attempt to do so will put them behind a competitor.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen an enterprising Twitter user take all 259 words currently banned in Scrabble (yes, 259 words, amazingly not a misprint) and ask Alexa about each one, seeking to pin Amazon to the wall for being insensitive somehow.
Give it time.
Last week, we announced that Lenovo’s head of AI for North America, Andi Huels, will be joining us at the in-person Project Voice X (Oct 25-27, Destin / Fort Walton Beach FL). Now, we’ve learned their global head of AI and innovation over the entire organization will also join us next week.
Lenovo joins Amazon and Microsoft (already Presenting Sponsors of the event, also giving keynotes) and upstarts like Deepgram, Voiceflow, Cyrano, Pindrop, ReadSpeaker, KomBea, SoundHound, Canary Speech, Wanderword, Speechly, and many more.
Additionally, we’re pleased to share that Zihao Wang, recipient of the Alexa Prize and current Emory University Ph.D candidate, will share his latest project as well as part of the in-person conference.
We know there’s a lot of last-minute folks deciding to jump on a plane and join us. If this is you, once you’re registered, let us know you’re coming and we’ll figure out who to introduce you to and how best to involve you with this event, which will be for many, the first in a long time.
We’re pleased to be able to share that Google is now the latest to join the program for next Friday’s Project Voice X Worldwide, where they will share information about their Next Billion Users program and its TaskMate crowdsourcing/gig economy software, which voice/AI companies will likely find quite useful.
Two more in person events taking place before the end of the year:
Voice of Money, which will gather 200 folks working in banking and finance, takes place in New York City’s financial district on November 10, while Voice of Gaming gathers together 200 executives and developers working within all types of modern gaming to discuss how voice and conversational AI are re-shaping that domain.
If you’re a current VC or investor in the voice/AI space, or you want to become an investor in the voice/AI space, that’s a major reason to head to Project Voice X, where we will formally announce the new $20M Project Voice Capital Partners Fund I, along with having a number of new voice/AI startups pitching. Feel free to reach out in advance, if you’re part of either of these groups heading to the event.