Och AI: Will machines ever really decipher Scottish or Irish accents?

14 Jan 2017

Sound waves and wavelengths. Image: Chaikom/Shutterstock

The ability of artificially intelligent agents like Siri, Cortana or Alexa to understand accents such as those of Cork, Kerry or Scotland will be an interesting challenge.

It usually comes as a big surprise to those outside of Mountain View, Cupertino or Redmond that not everybody speaks clearly or with an American twang.

And nor will their indigenous vowels, lilts or tones ever cooperate or be mid-Atlantic. We just weren’t made that way.

This video below is an oldie but illustrates how speech recognition and Scottish accents, for example, are a challenge for technologists and punters alike.

Indeed, one of the entries at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition came from Andrew Nash, a transition year student at from Coláiste Muire in Crosshaven, who demonstrated the difference between Cork and Dublin accents by studying their respective wavelengths and frequencies.

Apparently, the distinctive lilting Cork accent is slower to reach peak vocal points, resulting in a sing-song drawl.

Who knows, maybe Apple, Microsoft and Amazon will soon come a-knocking on Nash’s door.

To get a sense of the scale of the challenge, here is a handy guide to the complex tapestry of Irish accents:

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years